CHRISTMAS, HOLIDAY

Twelve Days of Christmas Cocktail Party

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Red Velvet coconut buche noel.

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

CHRISTMAS, TRADITIONS & TEA

Our Christmas Cookie (Tradition)

Homemade cookies delivered to my neighbors last year.

As a young girl in a military family, we moved almost every year until I was in the 4th grade. We then lived for a few years each, in both northern and southern California before Dad finally retired from the service. Military families often live far away from family and miss out on the annual traditions or routines that usually form from being near them. We didn’t have Christmas Eve’s at Uncle so in so’s or alternated Christmas Day dinners at each of our grandparent’s houses. Christmas was usually just dinner for the four of us, Mom, Dad, my brother and I.

Having missed out on holiday traditions with other family members as a kid, it was important to me that my daughter have family traditions when she was growing up. I was inspired by my ex-husband’s large family, who routinely celebrated different holidays throughout the year their own unique way with a large family picnic for Easter and a Christmas Eve gathering every year that I made sure she attended.

In preparation for Christmas, three families that resided in homes all on the same street gathered in the late afternoon on Thanksgiving Day to pick a family member’s name from a bowl. On Christmas Eve there was a party at one of the three homes along with traditional food and a gift exchange. My food memory from those parties so many years later were Grammy’s shrimp balls, at the time made by a beloved Aunt nestled in a chrome insulated container that I couldn’t wait to see arrive and placed on the table.

Another tradition that took place for several years involved a group of family members that got together in early November and drove across Lake Pontchartrain to a Christmas tree farm. Each family would select their tree, pay for it and tag it. The Friday after Thanksgiving, everyone would make the journey back to the farm to cut the tree down, wrap it up and bring it home. The following Saturday night I would host a tree trimming party for friends and family. When I think back to the small townhouse living room I had back then and the number of people that would cram inside, I’m not sure how we did it, but everyone eagerly attended year after year.

These were the days long before computers, so with a few library books and a typewriter, I typed all of the lyrics to 36 Christmas carols. I cut out and taped some images and drew others to some of the pages. I then organized the pages so that after I made photocopies and folded them in half, they would form a little song book. The children would sit in front of their decorated tree and sing a few Christmas carols.

While I didn’t ask my guests to bring an ornament, I received some beautiful versions that have become treasured classics -handled with special care as they are hung on my tree all of these years later. Year after year, as I unpack them from their layers of bubble wrap or tissue, the memories of those parties come rushing back.

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

Whenever a party includes children it’s imperative to have an activity to keep them entertained, especially in a small home. Upstairs I had an open loft that didn’t have any specific purpose, but offered enough space to place two folding tables with chairs. For the first party I baked cookies formed into various Christmas themed shapes such as candy canes, bells, and trees. I then purchased a variety of sprinkles and colored sugars and cans of white frosting that I used food color to make green, red and yellow. The kids sat at the tables with their plastic knives and dipped into the cans of frosting to slather on their cookies and then sprinkle with various candy decorations having a ball! I would convince them to allow the cookies to dry, and then ask them to come downstairs to decorate the tree and sing Christmas carols. We then wrapped their cookies in cellophane bags for their journey home.

In the years that followed, I found a large Teddy Bear cookie cutter. I thought that something with a larger surface, maybe rolled out a little thicker, would be easier for the kids to handle. I could not have imagined not only how much they would love it at the time (as they left with bears loaded down with chocolate or vanilla icing and about a pound of various candies), but years later one of the mothers told me her daughter still remembers decorating those cookies and she’s now in her late 30’s.

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

Now I have grandchildren, but they live one State over and with jobs and school schedules I don’t see them as much as I would like. While they often come home for Christmas, it’s usually after the tree has been decorated, so starting with my first grandchild, I have baked those same Teddy Bear cookies and mailed them with tubes of icing and various sprinkles so she could decorate her cookies when she decorated the tree with my daughter and her husband. Now with three grandchildren, every year I’ve sent the cookies and the kids have followed the tradition of a night of cookie decorating. Last year I asked my granddaughter who was at the time just days from her 11th birthday, if I should keep making the Teddy Bear cookies and she immediately said “Yes! Nana, it’s a tradition!”

For the past two years, their little family has stopped by on the Saturday after Thanksgiving on their way home from visiting their grandparents in Alabama to decorate my tree. This year while Mom and Dad enjoyed a college football game, we played Christmas music and shared an evening of decorating my Christmas tree and then gathered around the table to decorate two new cookie shapes – a large Christmas Tree and the popular red truck with a Christmas Tree (that the boys decided to make blue.) Of course by the time we had finished the Christmas tree cookie, my littlest demanded it was time to eat his snowflake cookie. (I mean a little boy can only hold out for so long!)

Packed in those same cellophane bags, ready for the journey home, somehow all of these years later, I’ve managed to re-create a similar tradition with my grandchildren. Whether in their own home or here with me, I hope that like those other small children who once attended my tree trimming parties years ago, they will remember these moments as our “Christmas cookie tradition.”

HOLIDAY, Thanksgiving, THANKSGIVING

So Grateful for Your Support!

Happy Thanksgiving!

In the kitchen once again whipping up our Thanksgiving dinner!

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

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

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

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

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

Iced tea with rosemary simple syrup.

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

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

FRIENDSGIVING, WINE CLUB

Alpine-Alsace Friendsgiving Wine Party Fondue..

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Not fully dressed table – but pulling the plan together.

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

One of the red roosters of Eguisheim.

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

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

Practicing the flower placing.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Escargot before baking…
Escargot after baking.

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

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

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

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

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

TRAVEL JOURNAL

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

Past Itinerary Series

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

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

Roger Conant

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Snow storm in the distance.

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

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

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

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

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

BOOK CLUB

Where the Crawdads Sing… Bookclub Meeting

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

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

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

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

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

The Menu:

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

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

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

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

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

TRAVEL JOURNAL

New England Tour… The Cape Cod – Kennedy Experience.

🍂🍁🍂Past Itinerary Series🍂🍁🍂

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

TRAVEL JOURNAL

Falling for Fall – Nine Day tour of New England:

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

Boston, Massachusetts

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

GATHERINGS

Hosting a Friendsgiving Brunch

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

Bellini Cocktails, Sparkling Apple Cider.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

TRAVEL JOURNAL

The Spontaneous Traveler – Bonus Edition

The beautiful town of Eguisheim, France

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

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

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

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

Images from our hiking afternoon from Mürren to Grimmelwald.

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

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

I

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

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

TRAVEL JOURNAL

The Spontaneous Traveler-Auf Wiedersehen

My Final Day- Switzerland 🇨🇭

Saturday to Wednesday- 5 Amazing Days

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

TRAVEL JOURNAL

The Spontaneous Traveler -Switzerland 🇨🇭 continued…

What Can Happen in Less Than a Week

Day 1 & 2 Mürren

The first of two gondolas that transported us to Mürren.

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

An image of the gondola from our hotel window.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The beautiful clear water.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

TRAVEL JOURNAL

The Spontaneous Traveler- Switzerland 🇨🇭

What Can Happen in Less Than a Week…

Day 3 – On the Road to Switzerland

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

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

Crossing the border of Germany into Switzerland.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

TRAVEL JOURNAL

The Spontaneous Traveler : Germany

What Can Happen in Less Than a Week

Day 2 – Part 2 The Black Forest

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

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

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

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

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

Photo from Wikipedia estimated from 1900.

A CREEK THAT RUNS THROUGH THE LITTLE TOWN.

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

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

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

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

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

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

TRAVEL JOURNAL

A Spontaneous Traveler

What Can Happen in Less Than a Week…

Day 2- Part 1 (Germany)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

TRAVEL JOURNAL

The Spontaneous Traveler : Colmar, France

What Can Happen in Less Than One Week

Day 1 Part 2

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

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

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

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

TRAVEL JOURNAL

The Spontaneous Traveler

What Can Happen in less than one Week …

Day 1 – Part 1

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dinner beneath an overhead trellis of home grown grapes.

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

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

Note the large stork’s nest at the top.

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

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

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

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

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

The celebrated storks appeared everywhere.

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

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

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

WINE CLUB

A Hauntingly Elegant Wine Party….

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

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

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

THE INVITE:

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

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

THE APERITIF:

The Aperitif: My signature cocktail “Bitter Broken Heart”

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

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

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

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

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

THE CHEESE COURSE

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

THE SMALL BITES:

Warm Garden of Eden Autumnal Salad with Serpent Garlic Breadsticks

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

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

Serpent Garlic Breadsticks: See my notes below.

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

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

THE DESSERT COURSE:

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

THE WINE

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

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

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

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

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

LAGNIAPPE

Weekend Project #8: Master Bath

The magazine photo that started it all.

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

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

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

The Water Closet.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bottles of bubble bath and lavender epsom salts.

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

WINE CLUB

Aperitivo Summer Italian Whites (Wine Club 2019)

THE INVITE

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

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

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

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

SETTING THE TABLE

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

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

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

THE FLOWERS & LEMONS OF THE AMALFI COAST

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

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

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

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

THE DECOR & COLOR INSPIRATION

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

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

THE PLACE CARD

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

THE WATER BOTTLES

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

THE APERITIF AND THE WINE

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

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

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

THE CHEESE COURSE

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

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

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

THE SMALL BITES

THE DESSERT COURSE

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

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

Pistachio and Limoncello biscotti.

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

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

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

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

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

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

LAGNIAPPE

Weekend Makeover #7: Breakfast Room

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lamp purchased at T. J. Maxx

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

LAGNIAPPE

Weekend Project #6 – Guest Bath Makeover

Updated window with molding and hand made shade.

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

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

The magazine photo that inspired my window treatment.

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

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

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

The selected molding

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

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

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

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

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

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

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