SMALL TALK

The Spontaneous Traveler : Germany

What Can Happen in Less Than a Week

Day 2 – Part 2 The Black Forest

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

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

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

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

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

Photo from Wikipedia estimated from 1900.

A CREEK THAT RUNS THROUGH THE LITTLE TOWN.

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

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

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

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

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

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

SMALL TALK

A Spontaneous Traveler

What Can Happen in Less Than a Week…

Day 2- Part 1 (Germany)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

SMALL TALK

The Spontaneous Traveler : Colmar, France

What Can Happen in Less Than One Week

Day 1 Part 2

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

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

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

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

SMALL TALK

The Spontaneous Traveler

What Can Happen in less than one Week …

Day 1 – Part 1

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dinner beneath an overhead trellis of home grown grapes.

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

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

Note the large stork’s nest at the top.

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

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

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

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

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

The celebrated storks appeared everywhere.

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

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

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

WINE CLUB

A Hauntingly Elegant Wine Party….

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

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

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

THE INVITE:

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

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

THE APERITIF:

The Aperitif: My signature cocktail “Bitter Broken Heart”

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

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

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

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

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

THE CHEESE COURSE

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

THE SMALL BITES:

Warm Garden of Eden Autumnal Salad with Serpent Garlic Breadsticks

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

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

Serpent Garlic Breadsticks: See my notes below.

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

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

THE DESSERT COURSE:

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

THE WINE

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

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

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

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

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

LAGNIAPPE

Weekend Project #8: Master Bath

The magazine photo that started it all.

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

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

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

The Water Closet.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bottles of bubble bath and lavender epsom salts.

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

WINE CLUB

Aperitivo Summer Italian Whites (Wine Club 2019)

THE INVITE

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

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

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

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

SETTING THE TABLE

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

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

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

THE FLOWERS & LEMONS OF THE AMALFI COAST

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

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

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

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

THE DECOR & COLOR INSPIRATION

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

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

THE PLACE CARD

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

THE WATER BOTTLES

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

THE APERITIF AND THE WINE

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

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

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

THE CHEESE COURSE

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

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

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

THE SMALL BITES

THE DESSERT COURSE

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

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

Pistachio and Limoncello biscotti.

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

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

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

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

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

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

LAGNIAPPE

Weekend Makeover #7: Breakfast Room

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lamp purchased at T. J. Maxx

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

LAGNIAPPE

Weekend Project #6 – Guest Bath Makeover

Updated window with molding and hand made shade.

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

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

The magazine photo that inspired my window treatment.

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

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

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

The selected molding

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Peek-a-Boo aka 14 Shades- Annual Wine Off

To be fair, when you are blind folded you can’t exactly pose for a photo!

Our “Decades” Wine Club was near the end of its 5th year. One steamy summer evening in July we gathered for a “blind” tasting of the top 2 bottles from prior meetings over the past year.  Our club consists of 5 couples and 2 singles, with 2 alternate couples who fill in whenever one of our original members is unable to attend. Due to limited space in my home, dishes, glasses and so on – I’ve limited the attending group per meeting to 12. The part that I did not anticipate is that both of our “alternate couples” each had 2 winning bottles of wine from meetings they attended during our past year.  This caused me to form a plan for 16 possible guests (we ended up with 14), so I simply split everyone up between two tables rather than one and it worked out fine.

IF YOUR GOING TO PICK A WINNER…. YOU WILL NEED A TROPHY
FOR THE WINNING WHITE & RED

I’ve learned that even when your intention is to organize a gathering for fun; when a little light competition is involved, “winning” can be tempting.  I began to observe my guests throughout the evening at past meetings and overheard couples trying to identify which wine was “theirs”, rather than voting on the wine they actually liked the most – or one spouse would vote for the same wine as the other, rather than independently voting.  As a result we often have 2 wines that tie or have nearly equal votes.  To make the finals more interesting I decided to include the top 2 wines from each meeting.  We typically have 7 bottles per meeting and with this plan we ended up having our usual 7 bottles (3 white and 4 red) for the finals that I call “The Annual Wine-off”.

So what’s with the Peek-a-Boo you ask?  Due to my little observance of “couple voting” I decided to cleverly separate everyone for the initial tastings and give everyone a blindfold.  The bottles were bagged and numbered 1 through 7. Then I discreetly wrote the same 1 through 7 under the base of the stem of each glass.   After I poured all of the wines into their matching numbered glass I placed quarter sized numbers 1 thru 3 (in front of the whites) and 1 thru 4 (in front of the reds) that I printed out.  The girls were lined up at the bar on their own with the 3 whites, 4 reds, a small bowl of bread and crackers, a glass of water and a blindfold.  The blindfolds pushed out just slightly under the nose allowing downward vision, so they could see the stems of the glasses and the numbers in front of them.  They started with the whites (that should be the coolest temperature) and each chose which of the 3 they liked most, by handing me the printed number.  

Slips of paper with numbers -after tasting the wines blind folded, the vote was cast by selecting the number each member wanted to vote for.

The winning white and red.

I then had the girls step back and remove their blindfolds for a break. while delivering their 3 white wine glasses to their partners who were sitting at the table waiting to now determine their blindfolded votes.  However, I rearranged the glasses so that they were not in the same order.  Their 1 thru 3 were different bottles now actually 3,2,1.   When the guys voted I had to get them to show me the actual glass they were choosing so I could look under the stem and write the true bottle number on their voting tab. [This would be impossible to handle all on my own. My long time friend who is a member does not drink wine. So I employ her to help me with the uncorking, bagging and numbering task at the beginning and tonight she shared the task of monitoring our blindfolded voters on this night.]

The white wine competitors and trophy for the winning white.

While the guys were tasting the whites, the girls moved on to the reds and once their votes were cast, again I delivered the reds to the guys in a different line up to make their choices.

Not only did the voting spread out to give votes to every bottle, we also had an actual clear higher count winner for both white and red.  My guests also were stunned by how much better they were able to focus on the flavor of the wine when blindfolded.  In theory it has been said that if one of the senses in blocked off, the others are enhanced.  By taking away sight – more focus was distributed to the taste buds and everyone’s concentration on the nose and flavor was elevated.  

The trophy for the winning red and the red wine competitors.

When I explained to everyone they would be blindfolded the “Fifty Shades” joking began – therefore I affectionally added “AKA 14 SHADES” WINE-OFF.   

But in truth, aside from trying to get a clearer voting method, the evening was festive and fun. My group of winos are always eager participants in whatever I dream up. It keeps our meetings fresh and fun where great memories and friendships are formed.

THE CHEESE COURSE

THE CHEESE COURSE
Red Grape & red onion mustrada

https://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/giada-de-laurentiis/grape-and-red-onion-mostarda-5300990
Ice box blue cheese, pecan, rosemary crackers

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

Goat’s Milk Pavé with Cover Honey & Mango Gelée
[Black & pink peppercorn crust]

http:// http://top100.winespectator.com/2017/article/recipe-match-for-vouvray/

THE SMALL BITES

On the table: The beautiful and delicious small bites prepared by my guests: [Left] Cucumber cups filled with julienned daikon radish, carrots, bean sprouts, baby tender lettuce, a large boiled shrimp, thinly sliced red jalapeno -topped with black sesame seeds, a dot of Siracha and sweet chili sauce; Asparagus Au Gratin; Grilled chicken skewers; [Right] Mini lamb pies and caramelized onion quiche. [Far right] It was National Chocolate day and one guest brought artesian chocolate truffles.

THE DESSERT COURSE

DESSERT : BY HOSTESS
SWEET BASIL CANTALOUPE SORBET WITH CRIPY PROSCIUTTO
 

For photos of other small bites and wine club meetings go to https://www.pinterest.com/lorilynh219/social-interactions-parties/wine-club/

Blindfolds can be found on Amazon.com.

LAGNIAPPE

Weekend Project – 4 & 5: Kitchen Backsplash & Lighting

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

WINE CLUB

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

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

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

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

Here’s a fascinator tip:

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

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

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

online for the guys for about $2 each.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

WINE CLUB

A Symphony of Whites…..

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

THE APERITIF:

Port and Tonic makes 1 drink

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

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

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

THE INVITATION:

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

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

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

THE TABLE DECOR & MUSIC

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

THE CHEESE COURSE:

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

THE ACTIVITY CHALLENGE

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

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

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

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

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

THE DESSERT COURSE:

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

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

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

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

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

The Story of Mom … and Dad

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

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

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

Engagement photo.

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

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

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

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

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

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

50th Wedding Anniversary

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

WINE CLUB

A Summer Grillin’ Themed Wine Party

A 4th of July themed invite.

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

The Theme & The Invite:

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

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

The Table Decor:

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

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

The Cheese Course

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

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

The winesthe Sin Zin was the winner.

The Small Bites:

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

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

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

The Dessert

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

The top 3 wines Red, Rose’ & White.

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

TRADITIONS & TEA

Mothers Tea: Seamstress Theme – 2019 “The Day”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

THE SOUP COURSE

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

Carrot & pea soup.

THE SANDWICH COURSE

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

THE SCONE COURSE

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

THE PASTRY COURSE

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

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

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

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

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

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

LAGNIAPPE

Weekend Project 2 & 3: Fireplace and Light Fixtures

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

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

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

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

Scalloped millwork

THE FIREPLACE- WEEKEND PROJECT 2

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

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

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

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

LIGHT FIXTURES -WEEKEND PROJECT 3

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

As I mentioned above, the living room had a large dark ceiling fan at its center, and whenever I attempted to use it, everyone complained they were cold. So I had the ceiling fan removed (and placed it in one of guest bedrooms that did not have a ceiling fan) and replaced it with the French Country chandelier above on the left. During the holidays, I line the limbs with Christmas tree branches and hang a large bow from the center. It looks very “grand” when walking into the room. (Below) The dining room fixture (original in the construction image further above) was replaced with the chandelier on the right above.

Living room chandelier dressed for Christmas.

The light fixture in the breakfast room (in the background of the picture on the left and the Christmas version above) was replaced with an open lantern style fixture. Below I found two lamps with the same rectangle shaped shades as the pendant that tied everything together. Many of the French designed rooms included a stone base, with cream shades. The lamps below were a thrifty alternative for the same look.

In all, these weekend projects were divided over a period of about two years. I donated the fixtures that were removed (still brand new) and a co-worker in my office who lived in an older home, happily took the chandelier from the dining room that I had removed to update her own. (Habitat for Humanity is a great place to donate slightly used items.)

There is a large selection of lighting designs available to match your personal style that is easily accessible online. Both of these examples are to illustrate that change as simple as a small piece of millwork and a tiny bottle of paint or a statement light fixture can change the entire appearance and atmosphere of each room, even if is just a special lamp.

I

WINE CLUB

Dress to Kill: Murder Mystery Wine Club

Fresh rosemary & lavender from my garden tied
with twine on the napkins; magnifying glass &
note pads with “inspector” hat & mustache.
(Both from the Dollar Tree)

I’m often asked where my ideas for my gatherings come from.  The truth is, I see something that inspires me and literally can’t sleep well for a few days. My mind races with a creative adrenaline induced frenzy, causing me to get up several times throughout the night to write down the avalanche of ideas that attack my thoughts so I can be freed to go back to sleep. The idea can be inspired by a magazine article, something I read in a novel, an item I see in a store, or something I see on a morning talk, news or cooking show. Once one of our wine meetings has ended, I’m immediately seeking out inspiration for the theme of the next.

This wine club meeting was inspired earlier in the year when I was listening to the Rachel Ray Show. A segment with two ladies from The Skimm discussed a wine pairing bookclub in their office, that has become a whole new point of interest for their newsletter.

My interest peaked (originally for my bookclub) so I listened more closely as four book and wine pairing examples were discussed.  One of the books, a historical crime fiction  ‘The Alienist’ by Caleb Carr was paired with a bottle from the “19 Crimes” living wine labels collection (Australia) by Ms. Ray.  She demonstrated how the Living Wine Labels APP can be downloaded to a smart phone and when held over the label (with the use of the phone camera) the criminal comes to life and tells you a little of their story.  I immediately knew I had to do something with this wine and started looking for a Murder Mystery dinner script. As luck would have it, I found a free script on Pinterest about a murder on a vineyard (Sour Grapes of Wrath) and a plan began to form. http://www.whodunitmysteries.com/SourGrapesofWrath.pdfThe Invitation:

THE INVITATION

I typically send an email a month or two prior to the next anticipated meeting, with a couple of date options, requesting feedback on which date works best for the majority. I also include the theme for that meeting and request everyone save the date.

About a month prior to the saved date, I send an email selecting free clip art that represents our theme with an actual to create an actual invitation, detailing the date, time and any other special instructions. In this particular case, I purchased all of the wine, so there was no request for wine, but as usual guests were asked to bring a small bite and to R.S.V.P. by a deadline. Once I knew who was able to attend, I assigned the six characters from the script to the guests that I thought would best match those attending, three woman and three men. Separately I emailed the author’s suggested costuming of each character and WOW… did them come dressed to kill! They stayed in character throughout the evening and I can’t remember when we all laughed so much.

SETTING THE TABLE

The scene of this Murder Mystery took place at a vineyard. Therefore I wanted to create a table with the same vibe. While an outdoor alfresco setting would have been amazing, here in Southern Louisiana the heat and mosquitos make outdoor dining impossible unless you have a large screened room of which I do not. A faux leafy olive garland purchased at a craft store was used in the center of my table (live olive tree branches would be even better). Dollar store magnifying glasses, small flip up wire rimmed notepads decorated with mustache and bowler hat stickers were placed by each couple for noting mystery “clues”. Place cards were made with chalkboard paper tags with picks. I used a white marker to write the names and then tied the pick to a wine cork with twine. For an earthy look and fresh fragrance, neutral colored linen napkins were cinched with fresh lavender and rosemary in twine from my garden. Wicker lined glasses added a “picnic/alfresco” touch with votive candlelight along with the candelabra that added some drama to the table. Copies of the script were placed in front of each of the characters (specific with only information they should know) and a general script for the others. If you the weather and bugs are not an issue where you live, an outdoor setting with a lot of candlelight would create a mystic yet romantic atmosphere for the evening.

A bottle of wine was placed on the table in front of each couple’s assigned seat and two wine glasses per guest. There were six rounds in the script and we had six bottles of wine to coincide with each round. This gave each guest an opportunity to activate a label on their phone and we would take a short break from the script to evaluate the bottle of wine we were tasting.

Place cards were tied with twine to corks and a faux olive vine with wicker votives went down the center of the table to create a vineyard look. [ If weather permits, this would be lovely to do outdoors.]

LET THE PARTY BEGIN!

When my guests arrived I had everyone download the Living Wines APP on their phones and demonstrated how the label came to life on the first bottle, which was the only white wine with the only female criminal. Her narrative explained how she was banished from her country and family for stealing bacon. While I read the rules to the mystery game (as the hostess), the bottle of Chardonnay was passed around and my guests each poured some of its contents into their glass for sipping during our first round of the mystery, as scripts were read and the cheese course was savored. The wine was fresh and crisp and paired perfectly with my cheese course.

The interrogation began over my cheese course of oven roasted grapes & blackberries
on fresh baked toasted Italian braided bread with goat cheese;
parmesan pine nut crisps; Manchego slices and roasted asparagus tips upon a fig leaf.
Above is one plate shared by each couple.

At the end of each round the wines gradually circled the table, with each bottle’s label held up to the “Living Wine Labels” APP as we all listened to the narrative of each criminal starting with the lighter reds and moving toward the heavier reds. As we passed the bottle everyone poured a little in their glass, sipping while taking in the script’s clues read by the characters of our Murder Mystery.

I think it’s safe to say that all of the wines were quite good. Some a little better than others, but overall good drinking wines.  One was a little heavier and we agreed it would probably be better with food, but we had eaten all of our food by the time we got to that particular bottle.  The most expensive of the wines ($18) was ‘The Warden’ and it was very smooth and rich.

For dessert, I made death my chocolate cake. Layers of cake and brownie with salted caramel filling.  A blackberry mango compote to balance out the richness of the cake and a bloody red wine reduction.

The script and author’s instructions were well written.  In fact, so well written, that no one guessed who the true murderer was!

If you’re looking for a fun night and entertaining evening, get together about 8 friends and have a Murder Mystery Dinner Party.  For now my groups’ acting debuts have come to an end. Their final words… “We have to do this again!”  Cue lights out….

The 19 Crimes wine can be found in just about any grocery store, but to find all of the bottles you may have to go to your local wine store. They are all inexpensive and all were good. For this meeting I purchased six bottles of the wine, but another method would be request each couple bring an assigned bottle to avoid duplications.

TRADITIONS & TEA

Teatime Menu- The First Edition

Hosting an annual tea pushes me to search for and create new ways to serve and present the menu from year to year. I first challenged myself in this way a decade ago for my daughter’s baby shower. My goal was to serve food in an uncommon and new way. Spinach (green) filled with roasted pepper mayo (I blended jarred roasted peppers with mayo) and thinly sliced turkey and sun dried tomato (red) tortillas were filled with wasabi mayo and thinly sliced turkey – each were cut with a round cookie cutter (about 2 1/2 in) and skewered. While I want everything to be pretty and different for these events, I also want everything to be flavorful. Below is the first edition of tea menu options I have used in a prior year or created for this year’s Mother’s tea.

Front to back, Carrot Walnut, Queen’s Coronation Chicken Salad, Cucumber Avocado

CARROT SANDWICHES

  • 1/2 cup of Mascarpone (room temperature)
  • 1 tablespoon chopped walnuts
  • 1/4 tsp. Chinese 5 Spice (or cinnamon)
  • pinch of kosher salt
  • julienned carrots
  • raisin bread
  • thin carrot slices (on mandoline)
  • carrot leaves or flat leaf parsley (to garnish)

Mix mascarpone, chopped nuts, spices and salt in a medium bowl with a fork or spatula. Spread mixture on to one side of two slices of raisin bread. Place julienned sticks of carrots over spread of the bottom slice and top with second slice of bread. (The spread on both slices help hold everything together.) Using a sharp knife (or electric knife), cut and trim to remove crust and form rectangle shaped sandwiches (2 to 3 per – depending on the width of bread slice.) Place a small dollop of mascarpone spread on the top of sandwich (acting as the glue), place a small piece of walnut, thin sliced carrot and leaf for garnish.

CORONATION CHICKEN SANDWICHES

This sandwich was adapted from Queen Elizabeth’s Coronation tea sandwiches in Tea Time Magazine. For garnish, remove the crust from the bread and cut diagonally. Spread apricot jam on one edge to adhere toasted slivered almonds. https://www.teatimemagazine.com/coronation-chicken-salad-sandwiches-recipe/

CUCUMBER SANDWICH

Cucumber sandwiches are not complicated, but often lack in flavor. This version was prepared with thin white bread, a herbed or dill cream cheese spread (room temperature), thinly sliced avocado inside the sandwiched bread and crust removed. Sandwich cut into 4 squares. Thin ribbon slices of English cucumber made with a mandoline or vegetable peeler, are stacked on top of the sandwich secured with a pretty pick. A little dill for garnish.

Rather than having a 4th finger sandwich, or a traditional
egg salad sandwich, I served deviled egg baskets (inspired by Pinterest). Alfalfa sprouts inserted inside the egg cups to create a “nest” for eggs to sit on (lifted for easier access)
and chive blossoms from my garden.

BASIL BLT

Fresh basil mixed with mayo, a layer of crispy bacon,
halved cherry tomatoes, and Spring baby lettuce.
  • German Dark Wheat (Pepperidge Farms) 8 slices yields 12 tea sandwiches (3 per 2 slices)
  • Fresh basil (2 teaspoons) chopped and small cluster leaves or small whole leaf for garnish)
  • Zest of a lemon and 1/2 tsp lemon juice
  • 1 cup mayonnaise
  • 24 half slices of cooked bacon (crispy) blot away grease
  • 1 pint on the vine cherry tomatoes (or cherry tomatoes) -sliced into 1/8th inch disks; set aside in a bowl and drizzle with white balsamic vinegar, sprinkle with 2 pinches of salt, 1 pinch of black pepper.
  • White balsamic vinegar (above)
  • Spring mix lettuces, arugula or baby spinach

Lightly toast all slices of bread. Mix mayo, lemon zest, juice and chopped basil. Coat one side of all toasted bread slices crust to crust. Top one side of toast with the spread with 3 half slices of bacon. Next layer sliced tomatoes, then greens, slice of toast on top. Remove the crust from the edges and then cut sandwich into 3 equal rectangles. Top with tomato slice and small basil cluster of leaves or a single small leaf. Place a decorative pick through the garnish to hold sandwich together.

EGG SALAD OR DEVILED EGGS

These deviled eggs were so much prettier than an egg salad sandwich, I was able to use my chives and their blossoms from my garden. For a variety of beautiful deviled eggs I recommend the blog “She Keeps a Lovely Home”. You can also find images of her eggs on Pinterest. I made her Bloody Mary deviled eggs for a brunch and they were excellent.https://www.shekeepsalovelyhome.com/

SALMON CUCUMBER BITES

As an alternative to a cucumber sandwich (to omit some of the bread), I used an English cucumber slice (about 1/4th inch thick to hold the topping); mixed together chopped dill with creme fraiche ( or sour cream) dolloped on top of the cucumber, sprinkled with everything bagel seasoning (Trader Joe’s or make your own); flaked broiled or baked salmon; garnished with chopped chive and a sprig of dill -chive blossoms separated into smaller pieces.

In lieu of a sandwich, these mini puffed pastry tomato, goat cheese tarts. They are also a great picnic item.

SCONE COURSE

For some reason my scone course never seems to get photographed. Part of the problem of being the cook, the host and the photographer – is that it’s very hard to do everything!

My favorite scone is a cranberry orange version on Martha Stewart’s website. I have also used the same recipe with fresh or frozen blueberries and lemon zest. Slight adjustments have to be made due to the liquid produced by the berries. I also created a lemon glaze to drizzle over the top.

For this year’s tea: When I told my friend that I was going to make these blackberry cream scones from Pink Piccadilly Pastries http://pinkpiccadillypastries.blogspot.com/2016/06/cream-tea-scones-with-blackberry.html – she said it was her mother’s favorite berry and that she and her sister used to help her pick blackberries. So without knowing, I had picked the perfect scone. For my own spin to the original recipe I added about a tsp. of lemon zest and vanilla paste in lieu of extract to the batter. For the filling I decided to use mascarpone & whipped cream due to the density of the scone from the test bake that I believe will hold up more firmly. A dusting of snowy powdered sugar over the final garnished scones might also add a nice touch.

SOUPS

While it may not be traditional, I like to serve a light soup at the beginning of my tea. For my first tea I made an asparagus soup with roasted asparagus and added a tablespoon of lump crabmeat to each bowl.

Each year I want fresh Spring vegetables, vibrant color and pure flavors. The first year the star was asparagus, last year it was corn (a fresh corn bisque) and this year I chose carrots and sweet peas.

CARROT, PEA AND MINT SOUP

  • 6 to 8 servings
  • FOR THE CARROT PORTION:
  • 3 pounds orange carrots (farm fresh for the best flavor if available)
  • 1 or 2 small to medium purple carrots (if unable to find an orange will do)
  • 4 tablespoons of butter
  • 1/2 cup of vegetable stock or water *
  • 1/2 teaspoon of salt
  • pinch of white pepper
  • FOR THE MINT-PEA PORTION:
  • 2 – 12 oz packages of frozen sweet peas (reserve 1/2 of whole peas on the side for garnish
  • 6 mint leaves (additional mint for garnish)
  • 1/2 to 1 cup vegetable stock or water*
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 1 teaspoon lemon zest & juice

Note: * If chicken stock is used the pure flavor of the vegetables will be altered.

Peel all carrots with a vegetable peeler and then slice into 1/4 inch disks. Place in a medium to large skillet with butter and liquid (*vegetable stock or water), salt and pepper. (If you do not have white pepper -black pepper is acceptable.) Simmer on medium heat covered until carrots are tender when pierced with a fork. Carefully transfer to a blender and puree until smooth. (Note that hot liquid in a blender can splash and burn you. Make sure to cover the top with a dish towel or allow mixture to slightly cool prior to blending). Add small quantifies of liquid until desired consistency is achieved. In order to create the two side by side or swirl affect, it will have to be the consistency of loose mashed potatoes or the line will not hold. It cannot be watery.

Frozen peas (remove 1/2 cup of whole peas and set aside to thaw to room temperature). Cook frozen peas in microwave according to package instructions. Transfer to a clean blender and add 1/2 cup of liquid (*vegetable stock or water)and mint leaves. Puree, again to desired consistency adding small quantities of liquid – with same note indicated above. Salt and pepper to taste, lemon zest and juice.

Both can be made one to two days in advance, refrigerated in an air tight container. Gently reheat prior to serving.

Garnish: Create thin slices of purple carrot with a vegetable peeler, from stem to end tip. Gently curl and place in ice water until ready to serve. Garnish soup with raw carrot slice, several whole peas, a mint leaf, and chive blossom or other edible flower.

PASTRIES COURSE:

I do enjoy making the items for my tea, but shortcuts taken in some areas are acceptable. After all, it’s a lot of work! Last year I made tiny raspberry tarts, chocolate dipped strawberries and purchased french macrons.

This year’s featured Mom loved chocolate covered raisins. I elevated the idea of her favorite creating a triple chocolate (Milk, Bittersweet & Semi-Sweet) truffle, with Chambord raspberry liquor and currants. The top is sprinkled with cocoa and a sugared violet.

My personal pastry plan is – one thing chocolate, one thing fruity, and one thing crispy so that there are different flavors and textures.

Cantaloupe Basil Sorbet with Prosciutto Crisp.

Another course that I serve that is not traditional is a refreshing sorbet. For the first tea I served a store bought raspberry sorbet. Last year I made a Sweet Basil Cantaloupe Sorbet with a slice of Prosciutto that I crisped in the oven. The sweet and salty combination was such a hit, that I re-created it for my wine club that summer. This year I’m considering a watermelon mint sorbet or a store bought Italian lemon ice.

Below are small “to-go” boxes I found at Joann’s for guests to take away some of the leftovers. Matching paper straws with floral runners for iced tea was also available.

If you are considering planning a tea for Mother’s Day, a bridal luncheon or simply to gather friends on a beautiful Spring or Summer day, I hope these ideas will inspire you to make it beautiful and memorable.

Small “to go” boxes for guests to store the leftovers.
WINE CLUB

A Derby Wine Club – Party : Planning

Featuring Bourbon Barrel Aged Red Wines

My next wine club meeting is scheduled for early June. Every year I’ve considered a Kentucky Derby theme, but the derby date is usually the day I host my Mothers Tea. After placing the theme on hold for the past two years, I noticed more and more options of bourbon aged wines in the stores, and decided this would be the year to move forward with a derby theme. Instead of hosting the party on Kentucky Derby day, we are meeting on the date of the U.S. Triple Crown -Belmont Stakes race while still borrowing some of the traditions from the Kentucky Derby.

STEP 1: THEME: Derby Wine Club- Bourbon Barrel Aged Red Wine & Invite

I emailed by guests with the theme, the date to save and requested everyone search for and select a bourbon barrel aged red wine for the meeting. To avoid duplications, I always ask everyone to send me a photo of their labels along the way, so everyone knows when a label has been eliminated for selection. I’ve learned that most of these wines are aged for 3 months in bourbon barrels. The wine I purchased [The Federalist -Red Blend] was aged for 6 months with the expectation of a little more bourbon flavor. While my Derby party is for wines, this same party plan could easily be followed for a bourbon tasting party.

Clip art inserted into an email to guests. [Zapfino font]
The location and time of the event should also be provided.

STEP 2: SETTING THE TABLE(S)-DECOR

When hosting my wine club, I may have 12 to 16 guests attending. My dining room table can seat 10 comfortably, but it depends on the doubles and singles in attendance. Six to seven wine glasses (depending on the number of bottles coming) are set in front of each couple to share. Singles receive their own glasses. This of course fills up the table space very quickly. If more than 10 are expected to attend, I break up the group over two tables, using my breakfast room table (usually the location for all of the small bites) for additional seating.

THE WINES IN THE RACE TABLE:

Oversized trophy to be at the center of horse & jockey
bagged wines in line for the race.
Sketched plan for “The Wine Race Line Up Table”

Based on my expected attendance, I should only need my dining room for the seated tasting, while my breakfast table with be used for the food and a rectangle folding table against the wall in my kitchen will be used for “The Wines in the Race” shown further below.

I searched for “trophy” and horse decor items, hoping to borrow some items. In keeping with a low budget, I searched Good Will Stores and asked friends if they had anything I could borrower. When visiting my brother, I noticed a large silver-pewter trophy vase in the corner of his office that he agreed to let me borrower. I then sketched the plan above for the wine line up table.

BLIND TASTING WINE BAGS: Our wine tasting is blind and usually I simply write numbers on grocery store wine bags with a Sharpie, and tie the bag with twine. But for this theme, I printed clip art jockeys on race horses and side saddle numbers from Pinterest and the internet and using a glue stick attached one jockey and horse and numbers 1-6 to bags representative of a derby race.

Always have unscented candles for a wine tasting.
I found these cork wrapped unscented candles at Homegoods.
While my party isn’t until the Triple Crown Race in early June –
here’s a peek at what “The Wines in the Race” will look like.

Knock out roses from the garden added to the faux vine above.

THE DINNER TABLE – GUESTS SEATING

Every event planner knows that the center table decor where guests will be dining and in this case wine tasting, should be low so that everyone can see one another for free flowing conversation. Due to the number of wine glasses on the table, there is very little space (on my table) for anything large anyway. I try to keep the decor pretty, but simple. On the sketch below I’m planning to create small rose bouquets in square glass containers that I have, possibly add some small containers of wheat grass in between, use two cork wrapped unscented pillar candles and line the center with sheet moss. If my knock out rose bushes are full of blooms at the time of the party, I hope to use many of those for the decorations.

Red Spray roses used to create small and low center table decor.

THE PLACE CARDS

Everything used for these place cards, were in my craft items.
Card stock, ribbon, small moss sheet (Dollar Tree), clipped feathers from a red boa, sheet of pearl dots and printed clip art -hot clue.

I always use place cards for this party to intentionally move my guests around so that for each meeting they are seated next to and across from different guests. Originally I organized the seating for guests to be grouped that have things in common. I typically try to introduce some kind of discussion activity, so that everyone has a chance to be involved in the conversation.

The image of the place card came to me in a dream and I couldn’t wait to put them together the following day. I searched of a free clip art image of a Kentucky Derby hat. While there were colorful versions, I liked the simplicity of the image used, wanting to embellish it with a feather and pearls. There is also a small Kentucky Derby bow tie printed, but it wasn’t really necessary, because the ribbon formed bow tie covered it up. I used 5/8th inch (15 mm) black and white polka dot ribbon and simply folded it into a loop and cinched the center with double thread that I wrapped around the center four or five times and then knotted in the back. The completed bow tie is 1 1/2 inches wide.

Green sheet moss from the Dollar Tree was cut to the same size as the folded card stock. It was then hot glued to the card. The printed clip art with names was cut to size and the top right and bottom left corners cut on an angle to allow some of the green moss to be visible.

Scorecards: I searched Pinterest and other sites for inspiration for my table setting, decor and small bites. I found this antique Kentucky Derby program cover (I have no idea if it is authentic) that I used to create my scorecards for rating the wines.

Water is always provided for cleansing the palate between tasting the various wines. I simply replaced the label on a water bottle with printed clip art.

The Candles: Candles should always be fragrance free and I found these cork wrapped pillars from Thailand at Homegoods.

The Flowers – here I initially thought of the square glass candle holders I have and that I arranged red knock out roses from my bushes in. Then i remembered my silver mint julep cups that I feel is more appropriate. If you don’t have mint julep cups, any vessel works. I used some wooden ice cream spoons (the pattern printed on the handles looks similar to a jockey’s uniform) and created a glittered horseshoe to stick into the arrangement.

The final result matches my original sketched plan.
Overhead view to match the sketch.

The third table is where the small bites brought by my guests will be displayed for buffet style serving. The decor plan is complete, but I hope to borrower some horse figurines or other items to further represent the derby theme prior to the actual party.

As the hostess, I always provide the cheese and dessert courses, while my guests will bring derby themed small bites. For my cheese course I’ve deceived to make a Pimento Cheese Soufflé I found on this link to Garden and Gun Magazine https://gardenandgun.com/recipe/pimento-cheese-souffle/ For dessert this mint julep shake below (link appears at the bottom of the image) looks like a great way to end a hot summer day. I typically take a recipe and apply my own unique twist , but I have yet to experiment with these. For instance, I may use vanilla ice cream and press the oil from mint leaves in a mortar and pestle to flavor the ice cream. I’ve seen creme de mint used also. I will include my versions of these ideas on the food post following my party.

I will create another post after the party to share the food and fun! As for now – I hope these ideas instill inspiration for your Derby themed party and that your horse wins!

SMALL TALK

Rose Leaves Dressed in Pearls… angels in the distance

Happy Easter!

Brilliant rays spreading across the sky have always been my God wink. As I raised my blinds to the morning light the delicate pearls of dew tracing the edges of the leaves on my rose bush caught my eye. I struggled from different angles to capture its beauty. The window was smudged, so I had to step outside. I tried several times to hold my phone between the window and bush, snapping, but unsuccessfully capturing the pearls of dew. Once I was satisfied that I had finally achieved the image I wanted, I set my phone aside to move on with my day without further thought.

Today, after I sat in prayer and gratitude as I do each morning, I opened the picture I had taken and realized those brilliant rays were directed right toward my rose bush. It’s as if the bush had been prepared to catch my attention and draw me out to be near it. Those beams that are usually reaching out across the sky, were reaching out to touch me. If I hadn’t struggled to take the picture, I would have missed my God wink.  

I posted this story and photo on Facebook and a friend all the way across the country in California sent me a note that in the back by the fence, there were images that looked like angels.

This Easter season, whatever may be heavy on your heart, evidence of His presence is right in front of you. Just pause for a moment to see and look more closely. Whatever your God wink is, a 🌈 rainbow, a specific colored bird, a butterfly 🦋… watch for Him. He is always there.

SMALL TALK

The Dandelion Wish…

The Dandelion… “Wish flower”, I can’t remember before yesterday, the last time I saw one. The sky was crystal clear, the sun beamed bright and a, cool, comforting breeze soothed away any heat that thought of resting. It was so beautiful that I coaxed my Dad from his bed and drove him to Madisonville to sit on a bench by the water and breathe in some fresh air. The concept of just sitting in gratitude and enjoying nature is foreign to my Dad, but he agreed to cooperate. “Just soak in the sun and fresh air and pray”, I told him.


The hum of cars crossing on the little draw bridge competed with the occasional gusts of wind that blew through the Spanish moss draped from the large branches of the trees. His eyes wondered to the family further down the riverside taking a walk and the kids running in circles with their hair blowing in the wind. Eventually he commented about the very large houses along the river and “fancy” boats to match.

We finally got up from our bench after some time has passed. As I held Dad’s arm to steady him for the walk back to the car, a little girl named Riley and her mother, Lori suddenly approached us. They had to have been nearby, but somehow we hadn’t noticed them before. Riley reached out and handed Dad a dandelion. “Wow!” I said, “She brought you a wish to make!” Riley looked puzzled and I learned she lives in Las Vegas where flowers do not grow wild in the ground. So she didn’t know it was a wish flower.

Dad loves children and he was more interested in looking at her than making a wish, but I held the dandelion before him and said, “Make a wish before it blows away.” Without saying a word only smiling at the little girl, he took the dandelion in his hand and closed his eyes for a few moments. He then expelled three quick breaths to blow its little seeds into the wind while Riley simply observed. As we prepared to leave, we thanked Riley for the flower and wished her well hoping she would now find another to make her own wish.


I don’t know what he wished for, but I’m positive it had something to do with my Mom, and the little girl’s gesture offered a perfect moment to our little time in the sun.

EASTER, HOLIDAY

Design a welcoming Easter Table….

Any holiday can be daunting when it comes to decorating. While it is easy to go overboard, I’ve always felt less is more. When purchasing holiday related items, I try to make sure they will blend in with the style and colors of my every day decor each year. I also do my best to incorporate and repurpose items I already have in a new way. This method allows for changing color themes and a fresh look from year to year. Below I’ve explored different color themes, while using many of the same base items.

For the love of pink...

Over the years I’ve had a love affair with “dishes”. While I don’t have complete sets of eight or twelve, I did think ahead enough to require items were trimmed in gold allowing it to easily blend in with my china that has a simple lace and gold rim pattern. Pink floral patterns and depression glass also blend in well with my teacup collection composed of all pink and red roses with gold trim. Below are some examples of a “Pink” themed table setting.

PINK TABLE SETTING
  • Above soup cup filled with while linen napkin folded into a bunny.
  • Below: Elite Limoges tea cup and vintage etched crystal stemware.
  • The center of the table is lined with an all-purpose moss mat purchased at a craft store.

While the ceramic bunnies are simple ceramic pieces purchased for less than $10 at Homegoods, the gold edged flowers with just a touch of pink and green add a “vintage look” to each piece. The single “Mother” bunny’s ears are filled with gold, but the babies were not. I used a small bottle of model metallic gold paint to add the gold to the ears of the two smaller bunnies. A white base color can fit into any color theme.

With just a couple of changes here is a “tiffany-blue” theme.

  • Below top: Cross folded napkin, round placemat, Lenox bone gold trimmed china, cupcake pick cross & silk tulips
  • Blue and yellow: Yellow daffodils, added gold charger, blue & green stemware
  • See saw bunnies centerpiece, blue pearl eggs in covered coupe glass, simple paper plate bunny design in the center, vintage gold rimmed glassware.

Garden and carrots theme… pops of orange!

These carrot see-saw bunnies were
the inspiration for this theme. Cabbage napkin rings fresh cherry tomatoes on the vine
and radishes added to complete the garden.
  • Below top left: Orange woven placemat, burlap charger plate, Lenox gold trim bone china and paper plate in center with orange and pink trimmed linen napkin.
  • Below top right: Center plate changed to a ceramic green trimmed bunny plate and carrot print napkin. https://www.pier1.com/carrots-napkin/3811267.html?st=carrot%20napkins
  • Bottom left: Salad plate Grace’s Teaware gold polka dot, carrot print napkin tied with carrot print ribbon and faux carrot.
  • Bottom right: Napkin tied with braided grosgrain ribbon (2 orange and 1 green) and sprig of parsley.

For the love of green…

Green cameo depression glass juice glass and salad plate.
Elizabethan Staffordshire Bone China tea cup.
Egg cup with pearl green egg and buddies in the background.
The simplest of all versions still shines.

Lavender and violet are my favorite, and yet I searched my stock of things and even looked around at local stores and I could not find anything that I could use to create a table setting in this color. So I’m challenging myself to find something in the future.

All of these examples are not complicated, but show how the same items can be reused from year to year and look fresh and new. May these examples help you look at your own dish ware and table in a new way to create a festive Easter table setting. May you and yours have a Blessed and Happy Easter!

TRADITIONS & TEA

*Stitching Together* Memories of Mom: 3rd Annual Tea 2019 ** The Planning

Throughout my childhood, memories of my mother seated at her Domestic Imperial Automatic sewing machine remain vivid. If I close my eyes and concentrate, I can recall the whizzing hum of the belted wheel, that she occasionally had to give a little manual spin to start its rotation as she guided fabric through the fiercely bobbing threaded needle to form an even seam. I can hear the clink and gentle metallic crunch of her sharp chrome finished scissors slicing through fabric that was strategically laid out and pinned with delicate thin sheets of tissue pattern pieces forming shapes of sleeves, collars, bodices and skirts.

I watched as she patiently moved the pattern pieces around on the fabric to carefully position all to fit and then tacking their corners down with straight pins pulled from a red tomato shaped pin cushion. Occasionally she would prink her finger slightly wincing with a little jolt.

I was called to her side many times as she held pinned together pattern pieces and later partially sewn pieces of fabric against me, to ensure the perfect fit as she reached for pins held between her lips to mark were a seam had to be taken in or ripped open for a proper fit. The satisfaction she must have felt from her completed garments, encouraged her to master more difficult patterns and designs over the years. All so that we could both look fashionable on a tight budget.

When I was in the third grade she labored for hours, hand sewing over 500 sequins on to my ballet and tap costumes for dancing school. She tacked on each sequin individually with a small glass bead stitched over the little hole in its center. A year later for Christmas, she had taken multiple fabric scraps and formed them into Jacqueline Kennedy fashioned dresses, coats and gowns for my Barbie doll. As a teenager of 15 I was invited to a prom. She made my soft yellow chiffon empire waist gown and found little wired chiffon butterflies she placed in my hair. Later when my own Jr. prom came around, she had gained enough skill that allowed me to draw an image of a dress I had seen Marie Osmond wear on The Donny & Marie show, and recreated it in a soft pink chiffon.

As more and more women over the generations, joined the work force, sewing became a less predominate domestic skill, and the ease and convenience of department stores made buying ready to wear clothing more desirable. In fact, I envied girls who were able to buy clothes in stores, while they envied my one of a kind designs created by Mom that I was of course too young to truly appreciate at the time.

For this year’s Remembering Moms Tea, our theme is in honor of the mother of two sisters who not only made clothes for each of them, but made a living as a seamstress. While this was their mother’s profession, most of those in our group also have memories of their mothers or grandmothers sitting at a sewing machine, stitching fabric by hand with embroidery thread, crocheting or knitting.

The Planning:

STEP 1: Determining the theme- the names of each attendee was written on small pieces of paper and placed inside of a tea pot at the previous year’s tea. A name was pulled and the theme for the following year’s tea will honor that mother.