LAGNIAPPE

Weekend Project # 9 : Built in Desk Area Makeover

Before:

On to my built in desk area….let’s get this weekend project started.

I know it wasn’t that bad to start, but I wanted to elevate the appearance of the area to fit in with the rest of my home. The problem is I wasn’t sure how. I usually have to concentrate for a long time on a space and eventually I’ll find something like a picture or fabric that puts the plan in motion.

My walls were freshly painted at the same time as the Master Bathroom makeover. I had an idea for a decorative shade to place over the window to defuse some of the heat of summer or colder temperatures of winter, but finding the right combination of materials like everything in design (on a budget) takes time.

It began with a piece of decorative crown moulding, that with the help of my handyman Tim was formed into a small valance to hang the shade from. Hidden from view I actually used thumb tacks to fasten the fabric to a wood slat affixed behind the moulding. The initial fabric (a curtain panel) did not provide the desired look and several months would pass before the right materials came along (that turned out to be right in front of me the entire time).

Tim painted the valance with the same medium shade Graceful Gray used on the base boards, window and door frames and left it in the garage to dry overnight. Later that evening I went to get something in the garage and went over to examine the painted moulding. It looked so plain and boring. The beautiful carving of the moulding was not at all accentuated.

In a bold move, I tried to think about what I had that I could use to fill in the carved areas and remembered this Metallic Lustre’ paste in my art box of paints and a small bottle of metallic gold model paint from the craft store. Equipped with a small piece of fabric torn from an old t-shift, I dipped it into the lustre’ paste and slowly rubbed it along the top edges of the carvings. When it would fill too much of the area, I would use another piece of the t-shirt to wipe the excess away, leaving more in some areas and less in others. It didn’t work as well on the top wider area, the carving wasn’t deep enough – so here I used a small, thin, pointed brush and the gold model paint to fill in all of the top area. Little by little it created a more interesting aged finish.

Once all of the parts were put together, the fabric wasn’t achieving the look I was hoping for. As I’ve said in the past, patience is required. I decided to let it sit there for a while and give myself time to look around at different materials that would create the casual elegant result I was hoping to achieve. The project was set aside, and more than a few months passed before I was able to redirect my focus on it again.

Recently, I visited a new home decor store in my area. While browsing through the various items there, I was drawn toward two framed prints in black, gray and white hues. While my home is composed of shades of cream, ivory, soft blues, grays and some mustard golds, I am drawn to soft black accents. I purchased one of the framed prints and the shop owner kindly offered to hold the second, allowing me time to figure out where I would use them before committing to the second.

Daphne Home Butterfly

After experimenting with different locations in the house, I decided that I could place one framed print on each side of the built in desk area. With that decision, I now had something to inspire the shade and desk accessories.

I turned my focus toward my breakfast room, inspired by a picture I cut from a decor magazine that I was throwing out. As purchases were made to replace the furnishings there, I posted two chairs and two benches that were being replaced on a Facebook market page to sell the items. The fabric on the benches (below) caught my eye. I’d always liked the fabric purchased to recover the benches and made a remark to my friend when she was at the house, that this same fabric had the sophisticated look I wanted to create the shade for the window by the desk. She agreed.

The fabric on the benches that inspired by window shade for the desk area (this room now also made over).

The problem was that I would have to find new fabric. I originally purchased the fabric from Hobby Lobby about 5 years ago and they no longer carried it. So I started searching online and found it! https://www.onlinefabricstore.net/swavelle-mill-creek-galatia-iron-fabric-.htm. I ordered three yards, with the intension of saving a yard of the fabric to recover the desk chair seat. I also ordered a kit to make large covered buttons on Etsy. https://www.etsy.com/listing/229044822/25-cover-buttons-fabric-covered-buttons?ref=yr_purchases

When the fabric arrived I was a little upset. As I removed the folded fabric from the packaging, it appeared to be a different version of what I had ordered. It was the same pattern, but different colors. Busy with work I set it aside, but every time I passed the folded stack of fabric, thoughts ran through my head of how I needed to figure out what I was going to do. I carried it over to the desk area and held it up to the window trying to convince myself this was better. Then I unfolded the fabric to discover that, it was in fact the fabric I had ordered- It had been folded inside out! While I had a good laugh, it was a great accidental discovery, because I immediately decided I would use the back side of the scraps to cover the buttons that create a nice contrast against the lighter fabric shade.

I spent several hours measuring, trimming, pinning and then ironing the side seams. I then put together a design completely held together with straight pins in order to hang it and look at it for a couple of days. One evening I took the trimmed away side scraps and using the reverse (back) side of the fabric, covered several large buttons to somehow incorporate into the design of the shade. I then slid a button on a straight pin in areas to decide where they should be placed. Black stitching was added to each side of the fabric. (See notations on the photos

During the Christmas season, I found a large wooden spool of black velvet polyester ribbon by Martha Stewart at HomeGoods. I had purchased it when the intention of wrapping Christmas gifts with it, but when I wanted something to outline the fabric I turned to the ribbon. (See note below each photo explaining how the shade and moulding valance were pulled together.)

My mother’s old sewing machine that I rarely used had stopped working, So I brought the fabric to an alterations shop and had the sides stitched with black thread and the opposite edges surged with an ivory thread. With finished edges I laid the fabric out on my dining room table, once again pinning the folds and then hand stitched all of the buttons on. The folded edges also needed some reinforcement due to the weight, so I also hand stitched those areas together.

I then replaced the light fixture in the room, selecting a black drum shade with a bronze interior. The granite counter top that came with the house also limited my color palette, but the colors I chose appear to blend right in.

Black metal ceiling mounted light fixture with bronze interior.

I then brought the remaining fabric and my chair to an upholster to recover the seat cushion. Wall art hung, faux shade completed and also hung, chair recovered and light fixture installed, this weekend project was complete with a touch of sophistication. I had ordered it with a black piping around the bottom edge to match the outlined shade, and when I picked up the chair they advised me they decided to use only my fabric! At this point I wasn’t thrilled, but I went with it for a couple of days. I then decided to look for a black cord that I could glue along the edge with fabric glue. For $2.60, I think it was worth it. I feel like it looks more finished.

After

LAGNIAPPE, SMALL TALK

An Antique Store Stroll

Savoring the gift of time, past and present....

One of my favorite ways to decompress after a stressful week, is to stroll through antique and consignment shops in search of unique treasures. Sometimes I find an item I want to purchase and use when I entertain or add to my decor as an interesting conversation piece. More often, I just love to find unique and beautiful things and try to imagine how they touched the lives they passed through.

Silver bunny salt and pepper shakers.

Perched upon an antique sideboard were these delicate, but elegant silver bunny salt and pepper shakers. As a practicing cook, I’ve learned that your food should be perfectly seasoned before serving, so salt and pepper shakers in my world are truly a thing of the past. It’s also actually considered an insult to the chef when you add salt to their carefully seasoned and prepared dish. Still I know people who will pick up the salt and pepper shaker adding both to their food before they have even tasted it. As I closely examined these I tried to think of an alternative use for them. I wondered if tapered candles would fit into the cabbages holding the glass shakers, but after circling the shop a few times contemplating, I decided to leave the sweet bunnies behind.

Wedgewood – Beautiful . I pulled the price sticker off to take a picture, but some of it was left behind.

There’s something about this three dimensional Wedgewood – what to call it? It’s not a plate, I guess a plaque. It really is charming don’t you think? I imagine an English literature teacher placing it before his or her students and asking them to create a story from what they see in this little work of art, curious what all of the amazing versions would be. Do young people know about the old customs of courtship and proper behaviors of the past to incorporate in their stories? It would make an interesting creative writing assignment.

This beautifully cared for, small cedar chest brought back memories of my high school graduation. Does anyone remember when the local furniture stores gave these to girls when they graduated? This link gives a little history on the tradition that has since disappeared. I have no idea what happened to mine. https://www.causeafrockus.com/2018/07/lane-miniature-cedar-chests/

This crumb sweeper was a unique find and was something I decided would add charm to my dining room dinner parties. With all of the entertaining I do, passing it around to clear the table cloth before the dessert course would add a very Downton Abbey flair to the occasion – don’t you think? One of my friends recently told me that I entertain the way they did in the past which makes each event feel so special, so I suppose that’s why unique items like this appeal to me.

As a fan of Ina Garten, I’ve coveted her little silver bowl that she’s filled with everything from nuts to olives or a special dip. A vendor at a local shop that I frequent (Redoux), searches all year for antique pieces to fill each Christmas season with paper white bulbs (which by the way makes a lovely gift). She always seems to have something I’ve been looking for. This year I found two special items. A silver plated nut bowl similar to Ina’s without little handles and….

For years I’ve admired pictures of little pots de creme cup sets in Victoria magazine, but I had never actually seen a set. I especially liked the little cups with these rosebud tops that fit in with my signature “white” serving platters, bowls and dishes that I use for most of my entertaining. Finding these delicate beauties was like opening a gift I’ve always wanted and never thought I’d have. Stay tuned… chocolate pots de creme will be on my next ladies lunch menu – once the bulbs have finished blooming.

During a recent deep clean and reorganizing session of my closets, I found a white bag and pulled out a past find that I had forgotten about. Approximately 13 years ago, a friend and I had taken interest in the Opera and I found these beautiful mother of pearl beauties in an antique store. They have to be fairly old, because the stitching of the silk lining inside of the velvet bag that held the glasses had worn away. I found a pair exactly the same online, listed by an antique dealer. The description Lemaire Fabt Paris; 1900’s; Edwardian era; French opera glasses by Lemaire are crafted in brass and carefully inlaid with hand carved mother of pearl. There is a cute MOP button that finishes the piece. The mother of pearl has a lovely brown tinge to it and glows with a soft fire of purple blue pink and green when it hits the light.  (They are listed for $550!) I think I paid $50 for mine.

For the love of the Opera, found tucked away
in a case of Highland Road Antiques in Baton Rouge.

Most stores with affordable finds are actually little antique malls, where different vendors rent a small space to display their items for sale. The Copper Rooster in Old Covington (LA) is one that I frequent. There is one vendor there that has a little something I end up purchasing almost every visit (for damage control reasons – I don’t visit that often). Below are some of the special finds that I’ve collected from one particular vender’s booth.

The details of this delicate engraved silver platter with handles
is about the size of a dinner plate and has been used
at many of my gatherings in a number of ways.
The bottom has a small pedestal rather than lying flat, which is also unique.

On another visit I found this ornate silver tray, that while not especially old has the old charm of silver from the past. I’ve used it frequently when entertaining so neither this tray or the one above are hidden away in some cabinet. They have both become very much part of my parties adding just the right amount and sparkle and old world charm.

It wasn’t intentional, but this is starting to look like a set up for an elegant evening ahead!

A true hopeless romantic and love of all things French (as you can tell from the various items I’ve collected), one weekend visit brought me to a set of eight stemless champagne flutes with je t’aime (I love you in French) etched on the outside surface. I took a picture of the set and sent it to a friend of mine who oddly seems to buy exactly the same things I do. She loved them as much as I did, but didn’t want eight glasses. So I suggested I buy them and we split the set. If either of us had an anniversary party or other celebration of love that we wanted to use the glasses for, we could borrow the other four from each other. She quickly agreed.

As I carefully carried the glasses, two at a time to the register, I noticed among a jumble of items on a table nearby – a silver dish for serving caviar. I knew that my friend (“P”) had also told me that she loved caviar and that she and her husband would buy it for special occasions. The price was ridiculously low and I was so excited I had to buy it and surprise her.

Caviar dish and etched flutes.

Later in the year “P” sent me a picture of her table set with the two etched flute glasses filled with champagne and her caviar filled dish as she and her husband prepared to celebrate their wedding anniversary. I reached out to her for a picture of the caviar dish, and she sent me this picture of yet another celebration that included the dish I gifted her.

Etched with Je t’aime (I love you in French)

“P” also reminded me of another gift I had given her years ago, found in a combo antique-consignment shop outside of New Orleans. When you have a friend that has just about everything, it’s hard to think of a suitable gift year after year for birthdays or Christmas. Heck we have enough trouble year after year with spouses or other family members. In my imagination, I would love to find thoughtful, meaningful treasures for everyone in my life. If I can manage to get at least one special item over many years, I suppose that’s all that can be expected of oneself.

“P” and I are both drawn to the same things. We have a special connection in knowing what the other will love and appreciate. I think when you have that kind of connection with someone, it’s easier to find something now and then that’s special (like the caviar dish). “P” and her husband are espresso fans and when I saw these silver plated espresso cups, I thought of her.

A set of espresso cups – well cared for“P” has them looking brand new.

We spent the day together one Friday a few years back on Magazine Street in New Orleans. We had lunch at a great little restaurant and tried Lillet Blanc for the first time (her sweet husband later bought us each a bottle). We strolled through several shops including a large antique mall that for the most part was stacked with so many items it was hard to find things to appreciate. “P” peered into a jewelry case filled with various items and came upon these silver teaspoons with “The Roosevelt New York” stamped on the back. “P” considered purchasing them, but then declined – but I wasn’t going to pass them up. I decided to buy four for the iced tea lovers who come to my parties and mothers tea.

Being a book lover, I couldn’t pass up this special set of Collette stories (at Redoux Home -Market. I found this bronze book end (there was only 1) years ago and it just spoke to me as something special.

I especially love when I purchase something that finds a little story attached to it years later. Most of the antique stores I frequented decades ago are now gone, but some hold a memory connected to an item I found there, much like the little corner in the Copper Rooster. Two purchases occurred at a little shop in Harahan, LA. One is this imperfect chest that houses my teacup collection (now used for my annual Remembering our Mothers Tea) and the other….

See the story of how my tea cup collection began in the post https://socialinteractionsandparties.wordpress.com/2019/03/23/annual-tea-in-remembrance-of-mom-2018/

purchase was a set of four soup bowls and plates. After examining each cup and plate to check for any chips or cracks, I asked the shop keeper if she could discount the price. Shops are less willing to give a discount these days, but back then the norm was 10% if you asked and usually covered the tax.

One of a set of four – soup bowl with plate.

Instead of responding to my question, she asked me one. “Do you mind if I ask, what will you do with those?” I explained to her that I love to entertain and I intended to use them. “Oh,” she said, “they were my mother’s and I just want to sell them to someone who will love them as much as she did.” With that I did receive the discount, but kind of felt bad about it.

Years later when I would host my first Mothers’ Tea (in remembrance of my and some of my friends’ mothers who have passed) I served a soup each year in those same bowls. As I shared the story of the little conversation that was attached to this purchase I hoped that their previous owner’s spirit was with us, feeling remembered and know that I have indeed loved her bowls as much as she did.

Note: The items collected or gifted over the years have past lives attached to them filled with memories. New life has been given to each item with my own story of how they became a part of my life, or someone I care about, and live on in my celebrations or decor. Small shops are in need of your patronage. Support a local antique or consignment shop near you and search with fresh eyes to discover your own special treasures that can become part of your own celebrations and memories.

The Copper Rooster

Lee Lane in Old Covington, LA

My favorite little spot inside.

A little of old, new, craft, reproductions, home decor and more.

Mandeville, LA

LAGNIAPPE

A Year Long – Weekend(s) Project: Breakfast Room Makeover

A Christmas Present to myself in 2020….

My inspiration magazine photo.

For years I’ve imagined my breakfast room with a comfy banquette, but as with all things it took time to figure out the design I wanted and for several years I just hadn’t seen anything that inspired me. One weekend, I decided to sift through a stack of decor magazines with the intention of tearing out any pages of interest and tossing the rest, when I found the breakfast room design in the photo to the right. I realized I couldn’t stop looking at the picture, and knew that this was the inspiration I had been waiting for to update my breakfast room.

No, my room isn’t shaped exactly the same, and while I would love to have the beautiful hard wood floors shown in the inspiration photo, they’re not in my current budget – so my tile floors would remain. Also my windows reach almost to the base board, so I can’t create a permanent banquette that attaches to the wall (nor did I want to). I decided I wanted something free standing that would be easier to clean around and to rearrange the seating when necessary. Knowing how expensive something with tufting would be for a permanent version like the one in the photo, I knew I’d have to be patient while searching for something similar, but on a friendlier budget.

Tufted benches.

My patience paid off. I looked at these benches for weeks worried the color wouldn’t be right. Described as beige they are exactly the same creamy off-white of my dining room chairs and were exactly what I wanted. I ordered one to make sure it was right and then immediately ordered the second one the same day the first one arrived concerned their stock would eventually be depleted.

Two chairs that I purchased years ago at T. J. Maxx, that have been used for additional seating when a larger group had to sit around my dining room table, would now replace the dark gray chairs that were previously used. Without realizing until I had all of the chairs and benches together, both the benches and chairs have the same curved back design. (I’m always surprised when things like this happen naturally without my realizing it until after the items have been put together.

Meanwhile, I had to figure out how to soften the art on the walls. Deciding to repurpose the current botanical art I had previously put together with store bought frames and a book of botanical prints, I originally considered using a combination of cream and gray paint to achieve a distressed look to the black frames. Later I considered a mat gold might be better; but when I got to the craft store and searched for gold I found this champagne color that I decided was much prettier. It has a more subtle and softer finish than the gold.

This was truly a weekend project all on its own, because it took the entire weekend to search through the book for the best pages to replace the prior prints and then choose the best combinations of two. Meanwhile I sprayed two frames at a time with a couple of coats of paint. When they were all repainted, I selected the two prints that looked best together, for three sets of two frames. Once finished, the final decision was where to hang them.

The original frames were distressed black with red/orange botanicals.
Frames were sprayed with Krylon Colormaster “Champagne” and
images with shades of blue, lavenders and greens replaced the red versions.
Waiting on the table to arrive!!!!

As I said, a plan takes time and patience. As you can see not everything happens all at once. I found the inspiration picture early in the year before trying to put my own design into motion. Time passed from the Fourth of July, to Labor Day, Halloween, Thanksgiving and now Christmas was here as is evident from the red ribbon hanging on the lantern light fixture.

The art had been updated and placed on the walls and …… I finally found a table online back in November, hopeful with an expected shipping date of December 8th that it would be here well before Christmas. I instead received an email just two days prior that it was on back order and that it now would not be shipped until December 18th. Coming from New Jersey, it’s expected arrival date was somewhere between Christmas and New Year’s Eve.

At this stage, once again all I could do is wait. The room looked so plain that I added some much needed greenery. Live plants seem to thrive in this window and not only improve the air quality since I spend so much time in the house these days; but gave the room a much needed pop of color, warmth and contrast.

While I really love the soft slate blue roman shades in the inspiration picture I wasn’t willing to part with my woven wood shades and drapes. So the drapes were brought to the dry cleaner for some freshening up, I steamed them after they were re-hung and there they would stay.

I forgot to mention a Labor Day sale purchase. For at least six years a two toned chest in a pricy furniture and home decor catalog would catch my eye. I had torn out the page and pinned it to my bulletin board. When browsing through a local furniture store for a table (during a Fourth of July sale) I found a similar two toned chest that was on sale. I seriously looked it over, but knowing I was trying to focus on the table purchase, I passed on the chest.

Two months later, still searching for a table (Labor Day weekend), I went back to the store, having been told they get new things every day. As I passed the chest that was in the same spot, a tag hung from it and several other pieces throughout the store, with a “Manager’s Special Price” tag that was 50% less than the previous sale price and knowing the price of the version I originally spotted in a catalog, I knew this piece couldn’t go down much more in price. So I bought it!

Multiple ideas had tossed through my mind on what to do with this large bare wall in my kitchen for several years. The two tone chest captures the same style of the table I had ordered and beautifully displayed my collection of white serving platters, bowls and dishes.

Chest before the lights were fully installed and waiting on the table.

I purchased LED tape lights that connect with just the right length cords and reached the distance between each shelf. My handyman Tim drilled holes in the back just big enough to feed the small connectors through, the wiring hidden behind the chest and taped down against the back side out of sight. The two toned wood compliments my cream painted walls and the dark wood cabinets of my kitchen in a way I never expected.

It’s also another really rewarding experience when you step back and look at the entire area and discover that other little things came together on their own, like the way that the backsplash tile is two toned like the furniture and also similar to the tufted pattern in the bench.

Finally two very kind delivery men arrived with the table and my breakfast room was complete before 2020 came to an end. Finishing a room after all of the searching and waiting feels like such an accomplishment when it’s finally complete.

My final item for this open living area is a new sofa. Something that is very hard to imagine in a room from a catalog or online site. Measurements will have to be taken and careful calculating to find the right style and fit. Once again, I’ll have to find something to inspire me and then start my search in the New Year. For now, this project is complete.

CHRISTMAS, HOLIDAY, TRADITIONS & TEA

T’was the Teddy Bear – Jingle Bells Tea

The New Orleans Roosevelt Hotel (formerly The Fairmont Hotel) hosts an annual event called Teddy Bear Tea during the holiday season. It’s a very elegant festive celebration with a traditional afternoon tea, and activities that include Santa visiting the tables around the room, and taking pictures with children; Christmas stories are read, there are an array of Christmas lights in the halls, a beautifully made enormous gingerbread house along with other activities and each child receives an annual teddy bear.

A friend of mine has taken one granddaughter to this event for several years, and as the number of granddaughters increased (now currently 6 in all) they’ve attended as group to the festive event. This year, as with all things 2020, my friend decided she wanted to try to recreate some of the sparkle and charm from the event closer to home and called me to help her brainstorm possible venues. Within less than 10 minutes I had given her enough ideas and inspiration to convince her she could host a Teddy Bear Tea in her home. And so the story begins…..

T’was the month of Christmas and throughout the world, gathering was discouraged, not even for little girls. An annual holiday tradition, shared with their Nana, would have to be rethought with some magic from Santa. A call was quickly made, to one of his elves and suddenly ideas were flowing in delves. Nana didn’t want fancy, stuffy or bore; she wanted pretty and playful activities galore.

The Elf scratched her head and wrinkled her nose, conjuring memories began to flow. Remembering a cookie decorated with little hands, icing, sprinkles and sugary sand. Little cupcakes topped with fairies, or mini cheesecakes filled with cherries. Mini sandwiches rolled like candy, or tiny Christmas Tree pizzas would be quit dandy.

Inspiration found on Pinterest

On to the pantry, the Elf searched through her cutters and found the large teddy bear that was used and worn more than others. These cookies were made since her own daughter was little, then decorated with icing, sprinkles and shared giggles.

With icing and sprinkles all in their places, the bears 🐻 would come alive with their wardrobe and faces. With small candy eyes and a large chocolate chip nose; or a variety of options from their heads to their toes.

While the tradition is a tea, only hot chocolate will do, and she’d just seen a version that was festive and new. Filled with mini marshmallows, and hot chocolate mix, these hot chocolate bombs would be just the right fix. All that is needed, is the perfect sized cup, to pour hot milk over then drink it right up!

Hot Chocolate bombs.
Nana’s selection of cookies, sandwiches, mini cup cakes, fruit and a hot chocolate bomb.

When the weekend arrived, the elf decided to bake, knowing the difference her effort would make. Teddy bears ready and snowflakes for sweets – Nana could add to her basket of treats. Tightly wrapped and ready for the day, all Nana had to do was whisk them away.

Looking for ribbon, the Elf searched a box – that rattled and clattered as she opened it up. As she peered inside what she found made her glow, “I can make jingle bell necklaces with little red bows!” How special the day is going to be, the girls will surely be tickled with glee!

As the time grew nearer the ideas were still spinning, small pieces of wrapping paper had the Elf grinning. Carefully she began to trim right away, creating a bed where the bear cookie would lay.  Repurpose, repurpose, repurpose I say, it’s so much better than throwing away!

The table set and the bears at the ready, the girls would be thrilled to meet their new Teddy! Nana read Christmas stories and they played fun games, then decorated their cookies giving each one a name. Filled with giggles, sugar and memories; their decorated cookies and brand new teddies, the day was such fun, yes a great success – now Nana was left to clean up the mess! But the day was lovely with it’s new rendition and I believe Nana has a new tradition.

As the girls returned home with their teddy bears in tow, dreaming of presents, Christmas trees and snow; relaxed and snuggled warm in their beds, joyful memories of their day with Nana would dance through their heads. With the young girls happy and dancing with cheer, we wish a Merry Christmas to all and Happy New Year!

The End.

CHRISTMAS, GATHERINGS, HOLIDAY

White Christmas (with a Splash of Red):Ladies Lunch

Three more of my friends gathered with me on a Sunday, for an afternoon lunch. All of my gatherings require a little bit of a theme and then a menu. I decided on a White Christmas theme, attempting to make all of the food in shades of white. I wanted to serve a 2020 Beaujolais Nouveau – so I decided to call it a “White Christmas Lunch with a Splash of Red.”

Often I create a list of options for the menu, while also trying to create images in my head of what I might be able to use for the table decor. I chose to use white snow globes surrounded my mini snow globe ornaments (Martha Stewart that I found at Homegoods); artificial garland, a string of battery operated clear globe lights with etched snowflakes and when I was picking up the ingredients for the menu I found a bouquet of Star of Bethlehem flowers that I tucked into the garland. My table seats 8, but to practice safe distancing, I placed two at each end and two in the middle of each side of the table.

I placed a mini snow globe ornament into small cupcake holders with some crinkled paper and then slipped it into little cellophane bag that was set by each place setting as a favor for everyone to take home.

When everyone arrived, we toasted 2020 goodbye with is 2020 Beaujolais Nouveau that was very good and then sat at the table to say a blessing and enjoy the memo I had prepared.

The Menu: 4 servings

Dessert

The dessert course had to be started a day ahead for the refrigeration process needed to set the various layers. What you’ll need.

  • 1 quart of prepared eggnog ( I just purchase one from the dairy department)
  • 1 envelop of unflavored gelatin
  • 2 tbsps. water (separated)
  • 1 jar of prepared caramel sauce
  • 1 tablespoon liqueur or brandy, rum (optional)

To create the layers I made half of the eggnog panna cotta for the first layer. In a small bowl mix 1 1/8 tsp. of gelatin with 1 tablespoon of water. Place in the microwave for 15 seconds. This will liquify the gelatin (stir to mix and ensure well dissolved). Place one cup of eggnog into a microwave safe bowl and warm for 30 seconds. It just has to be slightly warm, don’t let it get hot. Using a fine strainer, pour the dissolved gelatin into the warmed eggnog and mix well. Pour equally in four glasses (I used this dessert coupes that were my mother’s). Place in the refrigerator for 3 hours or until set.

Using a good caramel sauce, place four to five teaspoons into small microwave safe bowl and warm 15 seconds. I mixed in a tablespoon of a French pear liqueur, but brandy or dark rum, or Frangelico liqueur are also options. Spoon even layers of the loosened caramel over the set eggnog layer. Refrigerate 3 hours.

Repeat the first step creating a 2nd eggnog layer. Refrigerate 3 hours or more until set.

I wanted to create a snowflake on the top, and years ago I saw a snowflake created on the top of of cocktail with a stencil and cinnamon. Unfortunately the I thought of this idea two days before. I searched online for a template, but it was too late to order. So I printed one and cut out the sections with a small pair of manicure scissors. Using a mixture of Chinese Five Spice and Nutmeg – I laid the stencil over the glass and sifted the spices over the pattern. It didn’t give me as clean of a snowflake as I’d hoped for but it was still pretty. I added white edible pearls to dress it up.

Mini Cheese Plate

On to the small cheese plate. While at Whole Foods, I browsed through the cheese case and noticed a sign the indicated all of the gouda cheeses were 50% off. A gouda with black truffles caught my eye and a small block of it would be only $3.00. So I bought it and a small log of honey goat cheese. Once home I allowed the goat cheese to come to room temperature while finely chopping some dried cranberries, pistachios and crystalized ginger. When the goat cheese had softened, I rolled and slightly pressed it into the ingredients, then wrapped it in clear plastic wrap and then refrigerated it over night so it would firm back up. When ready to serve slice in to 1/4 inch disks and place on small plates with the other cheese (cubed). The pack of endive I had purchased had both green and purple endive, so I used a few of the purple leaves to add color and a few green grapes. Everyone had small ramekin with garlic bread toasts to eat with the cheeses.

White Velvet Soup with Gremolata

The soup doesn’t have much of a story. Giada made it on of her shows several years ago and I’d made it once for a cocktail party served in tiny bowls. With my White Christmas theme, and unusual ingredients of parsnips and fennel , I knew it would be a light soup everyone would enjoy that’s delicious. Find her recipe in the link below.

https://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/giada-de-laurentiis/white-velvet-soup-3157615?_branch_match_id=420210008448251395

Winter Salad with Warm Dijon Lump Crab Dressing

I started layering this salad in a large bowl, but quickly realized it would be prettier to layer it on each individual plate. I put the list below in the exact order that I used to layer the veggies.

  • 1 Napa Cabbage (sliced in ribbons and split into four – the first bottom layer)
  • 1 or 2 green endive (cut the end off and separate leaves; I placed each under the cabbage about 4 per plate so the pretty edges of the leaves would be visible)
  • 1 bunch of watercress ( cut the top leaves with a short stem remaining off and gently spread over the Napa Cabbage)
  • 1 Fennel bulb (cut the top fronds off) split bulb in half and cut the core out; use a mandolin or very sharp knife make paper thin slices of fennel and scatter over the items above.
  • 1 jar or can of artichoke hearts (drain and pull some of the individual leaves off and scatter over the salad. I used pieces from two for each plate)
  • Small bunch of green grapes ( slice two or three grapes into thin disks per plate and scatter over the salad).
  • 1 small granny smith apple (Slice off two sides and julienne -tiny sticks. I then dip them quickly into a small bowl with water and lemon juice to prevent browning. Sprinkle over the salad.
  • Micro greens (optional -alfalfa sprouts are also an option – sprinkle over).
  • Grape seed oil (drizzle a very small stream over each salad (a fruity olive oil can be used also)
  • White balsamic vinegar (sprinkle a small stream over each salad)
  • 1/4 cup of toasted pine nuts – sprinkled over each salad
  • a pinch of Maldon sea salt flakes over each (or kosher salt)
  • See below for warm crab dressing

For a delicate salad a light sprinkle of white balsamic vinegar and a drizzle of olive oil (or grape seed oil) is all you need. No heavy complicated dressings. The salad above could easily be served ending here, but to further elevate and top with a little white decadence I used this warm crabmeat dressing.

Chef Kevin Graham’s Hot Crabmeat Dressing

Chef Kevin Graham was at one time back in the late 80’s and early 90’s, the chef at the Windsor Court Grille Room in New Orleans. Everyone raved about the excellent food served at the hotel restaurant. He published a book of recipes created for the Grille Room that I purchased and I’ve made this dressing for special occasions several times over the years.

  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 1 shallot, peeled and finely chopped
  • 1 clove garlic, peeled and finely chopped
  • 1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
  • 2 tablespoons rice wine vinegar
  • (I added a teaspoon of honey)
  • pinch of cayenne pepper
  • salt to taste
  • Freshly ground white or black pepper
  • 4 ounces of white crab meat

Heat oil in a small saucepan over medium heat. Add the shallots and garlic, saute about 2 minutes or until tender. Whisk in mustard, vinegar, honey and cayenne. Season with salt and pepper. Fold in crabmeat and cook for a few seconds until heated through. Spoon over the stack salad greens.

I found an instrumental winter music station on YouTube with images of snow falling that I played in the background, I had put my Christmas tree in the dining room this year so while surrounded by the tree with all of it’s trimmings, twinkle lights, snow globes, and candles flickering, my friends and I enjoyed a quiet, relaxing afternoon lunch while visiting and catching up after this long year of separation. I can’t think of a better way to spend the afternoon. Whether your Christmas is white or tropical (like ours often are in the South), may it filled with the spirit of Christ, joyful hope for the new year and truly be bright! ❄️

CHRISTMAS, HOLIDAY, 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.”

Nana’s Cookie Recipe

2 sticks (1/2 cup each) of unsalted butter (room temperature)
1 cup granulated sugar
1 egg
1 tsp vanilla paste (or) pure vanilla extract
1 tbsp pure almond extract (yes 1 tablespoon)
The zest of one naval orange (the entire orange – no white pith)

Sift together and set aside:
3 cups all purpose flour
1 tsp baking powder
½ tsp kosher salt
(for a chocolate dough add 1/3 cup of unsweetened cocoa powder)

Mixing bowl and mixer – add room temp butter and 1 cup of sugar and mix until creamy and smooth; add egg, extracts and zest. Mix until combined.

Add dry ingredients ½ cup at a time on low speed to avoid powder flying everywhere, and then mix on medium until the dough forms into a ball.

Split dough into two square disks and wrap in clear plastic wrap. Refrigerate for 1 hour.
Note: if refrigerated longer (or overnight) dough will have to be taken out and sit for a while before attempting to roll out. It will be too stiff. For optimum results work dough 1 hr after chilling.

Clear a shelf as much as possible to fit a full cookie sheet into the refrigerator. (I usually try to move around items all to the same height that I can set the tray on top level).

Pre-heat oven 375 degrees.

Place one disk of dough between two pieces of plastic wrap (this prevents the dough from sticking to the counter and the rolling pin, with no flour dusting or mess to clean up) and roll out in one direction, turn clockwise and roll again to about ¼ inch thickness. A good trick is to put chop sticks on each side of the dough and roll the rolling pin over the chop sticks for thickness to be even. (If too thin when decorating the cookies will break and the edges could over bake).

Remove the top layer of plastic and dip the cookie cutter into flour before pressing into the dough to cut each shape for a clean cut and transfer cut cookies to a parchment paper or silicon sheet liked cookie sheet. Once the sheet is filled, pop it into the refrigerator for about 7 minutes. (This helps the cookie keep its shape without spreading – if too warm the dough will spread).

While the cookie sheet is rechilling. Pull together the dough scraps into a disk and roll between plastic wrap again. Same process as above and place on a second lined cookie sheet.

Place the first re-chilled sheet in the oven with timer on 15 minutes – chill the 2nd sheet for 7. When the time for the 2nd tray is up, the first tray is half way through its baking process, turn it around and add the 2nd tray. When the timer goes off for the first tray – remove and reset timer for 7 more minutes for the 2nd tray. Cookies should be slightly golden.

Let tray cool for 5 minutes and then transfer to a cookie rack to completely cool. Repeat with the 2nd tray when timer alerts.

Repeat with all of the remaining dough.

Cookies must be completely cooled before decorating.

Cookies can be stacked into an air tight container up to a week – if you want to decorate at a later date. Once decorated, they are still good for a week and stay pretty fresh if sealed in a good container.

Note: Recipe used for: Annual Teddy Bear cookies for tree trimming parties; various holidays for grandchildren’s classes, cookie decorating with grandchildren and gifts to neighbors; 2019- Teddy Bear dropped for Red truck with Christmas Tree.

Other flavor options tested:
• For those with nut allergies – omit almond extract and increase vanilla to 1 ½ tsp.
• Lemon or Lime zest in lieu of orange
• Shown above -Add 1/3 cup of cocoa powder to dry ingredients for a chocolate cookie (any more dries out the dough).
• Powdered dehydrated raspberry or strawberry (1/3 cup) to dry ingredients for a pink cookie – great for Valentine’s Day heart cookies.

SMALL TALK, THANKSGIVING

Gifts of Gratitude

Thanksgiving is only a few days away and there is still time to show gratitude to those who have helped us throughout this complicated year. My family has been very grateful to the group of kind and caring nurses, care partners and managers that have worked diligently to care for our Dad who is in an assisted living and memory care residence. The staff has followed guidelines all year to protect themselves and our loved one from the coronavirus.

I truly enjoy giving little gifts from the heart, but this year my full-time job has really consumed a lot of my time and energy (so grateful for my job); and slightly exhausted my usual thoughtfulness that seems to come in small bursts these days. I realized I hadn’t formed a plan as of yet, for the little gifts I wanted to give the staff – so when the weekend arrived I hit the stores in search of “a little something” to say thanks.

First I had to reach out to one of the managers to get a head count to prepare for. She told me there were 12 including herself (and I later found out this did’t include the 5 nurses that I later had to make another trip for). Make sure you ask questions to get all of the information you need. I certainty didn’t want to leave anyone out.

I was in Homegoods and found these Christmas Tree scented candles that really do smell like a fresh cut tree. The refreshing, familiar scent brought the feelings of Christmas straight to my heart. Now as you know if you’re a Homegoods shopper, the digging and searching began praying the entire time that I would find three boxes of four that could easily make into 12 individual gifts. I was so excited (and grateful) when I found the three boxes I needed.

I didn’t want the packaging to look too “Christmasy” and while I was in line browsing through what I affectionately call the “booby trap” area, I found two sets of six bags in a simple black and white pattern with elegant green velvet ribbons. The pattern looked familiar to me, and I left the line to go back to the wrapping paper area where I found the matching tags.

Back home, I pulled out some gray tissue paper from my stash, and repurposing the ribbon on the box of candles (I folded in half and cut and then folded the two pieces in half again and cut to form 4 pieces of ribbon); I tied the gray tissue paper over each of the votives and placed them inside of one of the bags.

I then wrote a small note, creating two columns and sizing so that when cut I could use a glue stick to attach the note on the back of each card and tuck it into the bags. It took a little time, but I then carefully placed all 12 into a cardboard box and sealed it shut and was off to the Sr. Living Residence.

When I arrived, the manager that had given me the number of her staff happened to be at the front desk. I waved her over to the door, and asked her if she could please assist my Dad to distribute the little gifts during the week. It makes him happy to give little gifts to others. So she said she’ll be back on Tuesday, and she’ll get him ready in his mobile chair and guide him around the building to say Thank you and give his gifts of gratitude.

A true gift is one that comes from the heart and lets someone know how much you appreciate them. Another is allowing a beautiful elderly gentlemen enjoy the thrill of giving.

FRIENDSGIVING, SIMPLY ELEVATED

Fall Friend Lunch #3

A couple of weeks had passed since my last small lunch gathering, so it was time to invite two more friends over for a Sunday afternoon lunch. One of the ladies invited had other plans, but Pemmie and I took advantage of our time alone to catch up, something we haven’t had a chance to do for several months.

I’ve tried to make each luncheon a little unique with a slight adjustment to the table setting and menu. For this lunch I used the succulent adorned tiger pumpkins I made to create the fall table decor and I found some interesting purple hydrangeas that had been sprayed black for Halloween weekend that I mixed with some chartreuse chrysanthemums, peach alstroemeria and magnolia leaves for my crock vase.

My delicious French pear liqueur had it’s final after lunch sipping today and my friend had a contact in France to get a fresh bottle sent for future gatherings.

To create mini cheese boards I used small wooden plates to arrange a couple of slices of brie, manchego and blue cheese with grapes and berries over a small magnolia leaf. Some grocers or delis have a container in their cheese section filled with small pieces of cheese for sale that is just enough for 2 servings so that you don’t have to purchase a larger than needed block of cheese.

I love the sweet richness of pears, so once again I used them for my dessert. Years ago on an episode of Barefoot Contessa, Ina Garten did a “Barefoot in Paris” season. I’ve made clafoutis a few times with dark cherries, but this version with pears shared by Chef Daniel Rose has become my all time favorite. The only difference in his version and mine, it that I add about a teaspoon of Chinese Five Spice to a half cup of powdered sugar to sprinkle on top for a little added spice. https://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/clafoutis-aux-poires-3240468

Lunch included a re-appearance of my cafe’ purchased Autumn crunch salad with apple cider vinaigrette .

The cooler temps put me in the mood for homemade chili, but I didn’t want to serve chili for this ladies lunch. I found a soup recipe that included all of the flavors of chili and a smokey crunch created from chopped salted smoked almonds.

This healthy, hearty soup was made with butternut squash and lentils as the main ingredients. https://reciperunner.com/creamy-red-lentil-butternut-squash-soup/

Note: I used French green lentils instead of red (because it’s what I had in the pantry. I used chicken stock, added red chili flakes and the zest of a lime. When warmed and ready to serve, added diced avocado to the center of the bowl. Serve the soup with a quarter of a lime to be squeezed over the bowl and stirred in when ready to eat. Pemmie commented that the lime brought a fresh pop to the warm spices.

Soup served with lime and autumn crunch cafe’ salad.
Pemmie brought a fresh crisp wine.
Next day leftovers served in a wider bowl, the cubed avocado is more visible, topped with Greek yogurt or Crème Fraîche.

While this is the third lunch, I still have a few more friends to invite over for their afternoon lunch. When time permits I hope to carefully plan a couple of Christmas themed luncheons for the remaining ladies. Stay tuned….

HOLIDAY, LAGNIAPPE, THANKSGIVING

Dollar Store Elevated Pumpkin Decor

Dollar Tree purchases artificial succulents.
Craft store spray adhesive.
Dollar Tree moss, craft store 99 cent rolls of ribbon and glue gun.
A variety of colors makes a cheerful presentation.
The finished pumpkins can be used as table decor or placed on end tables,
in the bathroom for a touch of fall. The three of these will
be favors for my next small lunch gathering with friends.
A medium sized pumpkin can handle the larger succulents.
The succulents look very real. At the end of the season the pumpkins will not last forever, but the succulents can be pulled off and stored away to reuse next year.
HALLOWEEN, HOLIDAY

What to do about Halloween in 2020 -Treat or Trick?

A tradition of baking and shipping homemade holiday cookies to my grandchildren started approximately nine years ago. My granddaughter attended a Pre-K3 class, and starting with Halloween followed by Thanksgiving, Valentine’s Day, Christmas, ending with Easter, I baked, iced, individually wrapped and boxed cookies for her and her classmates. Four years later my middle Grayson came along, and when he started his Pre-K-3 class, my cookie duty doubled, requiring cookies for both his and his sister’s classes. Another four years passed and my youngest grandson arrived, but fortunately for me, the schools would no longer allow baked goods for the students due to the variety of gluten and nut allergies. I say fortunately because I’m not sure I could have made it through the baking and decorating of nearly 100 decorated cookies.

Now the cookies I send are just for the grandkids (and their parents) with a few extras to share with friends or co-workers. I’m no pastry chef, just a Nana trying to make her grandchildren happy. This year as I rolled, cut and baked my traditional cookie shapes, an idea formed that may inspire parents with a safe way to make Halloween fun and playful during this Covid 19 time we currently live in.

My trick or treaters usually receive one of my “crackers” filled with candies and plastic toys. Fashioned after the English Christmas cracker, I used the center roll from toilet paper, and wrapped the cylinder with Halloween tissue paper (it could be as simple as orange or black solid tissue paper from the local dollar store). Each end of the paper cinched with a piece of ribbon and usually a little black spider ring. The kids just loved getting something different that they got to unwrap when they got home.

This year, a great twist would be to fill the crackers with a “trick” like dried beans that are the same weight as candy, or a “treat” actual candy. Then hide the filled crackers around the house or yard and send the kids out to look for them (just like an Easter egg hunt). Some could be filled with a plastic spider, or other creepy crawlers that would result in a special prize, like a box of cracker jacks, a large chocolate bar or other fund prize.

Create a prize board with images of the “special” critters so that they know that just because the cracker is light in weight it may bear a big prize.

With this idea in mind, as I cut out and decorated the cookies I made one skeleton different from the others, two ghosts that faced the opposite way and were covered with orange and black sprinkles and a brown bat. All of the cookies were wrapped as shown below. Something like cookies could also be hidden and whomever found the “different” cookie could get a prize a special prize. (Sticker books, a small toy, etc.

The idea is simple and easy so that it’s suited for all ages. A scavenger hunt would be a great idea, but create more work to create clues and smaller children would have a harder time solving the clues, but if your children are old enough hiding items around the house hidden away and found by reading a special clue (i.e., “I’m dizzy from spinning round and round “- a stuffed animal hidden in the dryer; “I’m simply going to freeze if you don’t find me!” something in the freezer.)

I hope these ideas will inspire you to create a simple, but fun alternative for your children or grandchildren this Halloween. Start saving and ask your neighbors for help saving those toilet paper rolls and have a safe, fun and HAPPY HALLOWEEN!!