In home event planner creating traditions for gathering family and friends, thoughtful gestures and creativity.
Author: Social Interactions and Parties
My passion has always been to gather family or friends and make them feel special, but our lives are busy and complex so it's hard to make time one on one. I've created "gatherings" that encourage face to face interaction and shared common interests that set aside time periodically and enjoy each other's company.
I work full-time, so the ideas and planning for these events fill my spare time but form lifelong memories with those who participate. My intention is to encourage my readers to be inspired by some of these ideas and form your own S I P (Social Interactions and Parties).
Meanwhile, I also appreciate a beautiful and inspiring lifestyle and will share ideas for home organization, thoughtful gestures, journaling, traveling and more that have made my simple life joyful.
An event planner, whether for a party of 6 or 600 has to plan ahead, and in my case any chance of making things in advance is an opportunity to save time later. My Annual Mother’s Tea, held the first Sunday of May, is a tradition formed after my mother passed away and I was facing Mother’s Day without her. I invited a small group of friends who also lost their mothers to join together for an afternoon tea and share memories of them and from there a tradition was formed. As a way to make each year a little different, I wrote everyone’s name on a piece of paper and placed all of the names in a teapot. At the end of each tea (themed in honor of a mother) we pull a new name and honor that person’s mother the following year attempting to include memories, favorite flowers, special interests and/or careers including a menu filled with flavors that each mother would have loved.
At our most recent tea, my friend Kelly’s name was selected and in 2022 we will be honoring her mother Jane. Each year I’ve noted shared memories for future reference, and when I saw Kelly’s name I immediately thought of a memory she shared at one of our first gatherings about her mother saving marigold seeds.
Kelly shared with all of us that just a couple of weeks prior, she was planting marigolds in her vegetable garden, and a memory formed of her mother collecting the seeds from marigolds in her own garden. She confessed that as a child she didn’t understand why her Mom was planting the marigolds or collecting the seeds, but now here she was planting her own marigolds to protect her vegetable garden from insects and attract others that encourage pollination and healthy growth.
As she told the story, it reminded me of my own mother planting marigolds. She didn’t have a vegetable garden, but it seemed to be one of the few flowers that could stand the Southern California sun years ago. It also gave this party planner a great idea for a small memory favor to create for everyone at the table.
By mid-June, my own marigolds were beginning to struggle in the heat. As I pulled away the withered flowers from their plants, I realized this was an opportunity to dry the seeds and create the seed packets for next May’s tea that I had been thinking of.
I searched online for seed envelopes, but they were sold in large quantities when I wanted less than a dozen, and I wanted each to be pretty and femininely decorated to fit into my tea decor. So I then searched for free seed envelope templates. As I scrolled through the options I found this beautiful template by Glenda’s World. https://glenda-jsworld.blogspot.com/2013/09/seed-envelope-packets.html
I printed a sample and found that the size was a bit smaller than I wanted, so I then took a snipit of the image and pasted it to a blank page. This enabled me to expand the size to whatever I wanted. I printed the resized image. Once satisfied with the size, I decided I wanted the front to have a marigold rather than the date, etc. provided on the original. So I searched for free images of marigolds. I’m no graphic designer, but for years I’ve made what I want by printing, cutting and taping with matt scotch tape and then making a photocopy of the final image.
I cut out the center of the framed section on the template and then sized and fitted the marigold to fit inside. I then created and printed a bordered “Marigold Seeds” band, to cut and tape over the marigold image.
I found a pack of pearlized paper that I didn’t remember I had, and thought it would make a prettier envelop. After taping all of the edges down (above is before the taping), I smoothed it down carefully with a bone folder (a craft tool used for making crisp folds). I laid the prepared version above on my printer face down and then laid a white sheet of printer paper on top, finally printing a color copy on to the pearlized paper. The marigolds changed to a rose gold color and the green font looks gray (that I can’t explain), but all together it created a delicate image that was perfect! In fact as I was researching marigolds I found that there is a French variety of strawberry blonde marigolds that the image below looks very much like.
The printer ink has to be allowed at least 5 minutes to dry or the image can smudge. Once dried, I used the bone folder to carefully fold all of the edges of the template for a professional look. I originally tried using a little Elmer’s glue to adhere the back and bottom flaps, but you can see from the image above, it caused some puckering. So I used a glue stick instead. Due to the texture of the paper, I had to weigh the glued envelop down with a plate for about 5 to 10 minutes to allow the glue some time to dry and hold the flaps together.
When I first started experimenting with the original template, I printed several thinking I would glue the image of the marigold over the fonted information. But after some thought, I decided that wouldn’t look as professionally made. Rather than wasting the first set of templates, I formed each into envelopes and placed one behind each of the marigold seed filled envelopes that would allow my guests to use for their own seed collecting.
I then added a small pre-glued pearl at the bottom of each envelope and tied the two envelopes together with some sheer white ribbon I had in my supply of all occasion ribbon.
Each envelop was filled with marigold seeds and then sealed with small gold heart stickers I had in my stationary drawer. In fact, everything used to make the seed packets were in my craft or stationary stash. So they didn’t cost me a penny!
My friend Kelly’s memory of her mother, has been carefully created into a small gift from the heart that I hope she can be proud of at next year’s Annual Tea, where we will honor her mother in other ways yet to be discovered.
While I love baking and cooking from scratch, there are days when I’m just too pressed for time to perform all of the extra steps to produce a scratch recipe. I wanted to prepare breakfast biscuit sandwiches one morning for my handy man that was coming to fix a few things around the house, but again was short on time. I could have bought frozen pre-made biscuits or the pop open can version that are both tasty and successful, but I decided to challenge myself to elevate a simple $1.00 box of biscuit mix.
To speed up the morning process, I opened the box of mix and poured it into a medium bowl. I ground a teaspoon of fresh black pepper and chopped 2 teaspoons of fresh rosemary from my garden and added it to the bowl with the mix. I whisked everything together to get the lumps out of the mix and covered with plastic wrap until morning.
I made Coq Au Vin the evening before and had leftover chopped fried crispy bacon that I decided would add some additional flavor to the dough. I was curious to see how things would turn out with my “wing it” plan in the morning and pushed my mind for a plan B in case this didn’t work out, but decided to trust my instincts.
Bacon, Herb and Black Pepper Ham Biscuits
1 box of Jiffy Buttermilk Biscuit Mix
1 teaspoon of freshly ground black pepper
2 teaspoons finely chopped rosemary (or sage)
pinch teaspoon of kosher salt
1/2 cup water
2 teaspoons chopped crispy cooked bacon
1 tablespoon flour (and more for dusting counter and rolling pin)
4 tablespoons butter (melted)
Thinly sliced ham or Canadian bacon
Preheat oven 450 degrees.
Pour the contents of the biscuit mix into a medium bowl. Add chopped herbs, black pepper and salt. (I prepared to this stage the night before and covered the bowl with plastic wrap until morning). Cook chopped bacon until crispy, drain on paper towels, cool, cover and set aside.
In the morning I pre-heated the oven, added the water to the mix with herbs, pepper and salt and then stirred in the bacon until the dry mix was moistened.
Sprinkle the surface of the counter with some flour and scrape the biscuit mixture on top of the floured surface. Place a small amount of flour in hand and rub on to the entire surface of the rolling pin. Pat the dough down slightly and dust the top of the mix with flour. (It’s very wet, so a little flour is needed to prevent sticking.) Roll out the dough and using a biscuit cutter dipped in flour cut out 4 biscuits. The scrapes can be pulled together, patted down again and cut to make a fifth biscuit.
(Optional: I brushed the tops with a little water (very little) and sprinkled with flaky salt.)
Per the box instructions bake 8 to 10 minutes. These biscuits do not rise very much and do not get golden in color, but after taking them out of the oven I brushed the tops with some melted butter that gave them a little needed moisture and color. If attempted again I may try brushing the tops with a little milk or cream (like scones call for) to add a little color to their tops. After they have cooled slightly, gently slice all in 1/2 with a serrated knife and then brush melted butter inside each half. (They need to be mostly cooled before trying to slice or they will crumble apart).
(Note: I baked a small scrap of the dough with the biscuits for test tasting – always a good idea to make sure something “made up” tastes good. It passed the test so on we go to the sandwich filling). I placed slices of ham in a non-stick skillet and fried until lightly browned. Spread fig (or another flavor) preserve on the insides of both halves of the biscuit. Stack the fried ham on the bottom half and top with the other.
To add a quick side of freshness, I sliced a few large strawberries, then mixed in a bowl with blackberries and blueberries, some agave, a pinch of salt and a couple of teaspoons of chiffonade mint leaves. Fresh sweet basil or Thai basil, would also be a tasty alternative to mint for an herbaceous lift to the fruit.
While they are not the buttery flakey version better achieved from scratch, for $1.00, free herbs from my garden, a little fried bacon, preserves and sliced ham from the fridge, my guest had absolutely no problem devouring two and boxing up another two for rewarming for the next day’s morning breakfast. When you’re short on time, grab a box of something from the grocery store shelf for a thrifty and tasty way to a quick fix.
Note: There are a variety of quick biscuit mixes to experiment with. If attempted again I would experiment with a different brand to see if I could achieve a fluffier biscuit with more of a rise.
It’s May and that means it’s time for my neighbor’s Annual Memorial Day Weekend Fajita party. A tradition started years ago in a different home and State, they carried on each year (with a skip of a year now and then for circumstances like COVID) inviting friends and some of their neighbors over for a late afternoon of margaritas, sangria, and fajitas. As hosts they supply the margaritas and fajitas, and those who attend make contributions to the party of appetizers, sides and dessert.
Over the years I’ve tried to bring something that doesn’t conflict with the hosts’ menu, but hopefully will compliment it. I’m always searching for ideas and inspiration for everything I do and prefer to create something different and a little unexpected. I’ve even created a designated Pinterest board for future inspiration or reference since ideas present themselves at different times of the year.
A few years ago, Mexican Street Corn became all the rage and my childhood born love for corn made me want to share this yummy treat with everyone.
Canned corn was a common side at nearly every dinner when I was growing up. I used to tease that my Mom made us all into starchy vegetable junkies. Corn was served next to rice, mashed potatoes and pasta, breaking all of the rules I had learned about creating a nutrient rich, balanced meal in home economics. One of the first times I invited my parents over for dinner as an adult, I set the table nicely and prepared a lovely well balanced and colorful meal of roast beef, mashed potatoes and bright green haricots verts with toasted almonds to give that fresh pop of green I was taught should be on every plate. My Mom would always “fix” as she called it, my Dad’s plate, with a serving of each item. When she set the plate on the table in front of him, he looked up at her and said, “Where’s the corn?” That’s how bad the corn situation was in my family. A couple of days later Mom called and said, “Your Dad just told me he really liked those green beans you made. How do you cook them?”
In her later years when we had grown out of our picky eating phases (which by the way was nothing compared to the chicken nugget, french fry obsessions of young children these days) Mom cooked what southerners call “smothered” corn that we all loved and that I try to recreate for my brother whenever I’m cooking family dinners. “Smothered” usually means cooked with chopped vegetables, like onion, red or green bell pepper and celery until the flavors blend into a delicious mouthwatering treat. It was hard to imagine that corn as we knew it (from the can with a little butter or margarine back in those days) could be made to taste so good.
The month of May is the perfect month for corn. Bins at the grocer and farm stands are filled with the just harvested fresh green husked cobs of yellow, white and multicolored sweet corn. Another great tip is that usually the week of Memorial Day, the cobs go on sale for 25 cents each, making it a thrifty item to serve at a party.
Mexican Street corn is a fun way to elevate the corn on the cob and is simple and delicious.
What you’ll need: (Remember that I’m all about using what you have)
Small to medium husked corn on the cob (the number depends on how many you are serving)
Olive or canola oil and brush
Crema Mexicana (Mexican sour cream); or sour cream or Mayonnaise (I used an olive oil based, but any kind will do – it’s mostly a sticking agent)
Chili powder, chili chipotle power, or lime chili powder
Limes (zest and juice will be used) 1 small per cob.
crumbled, cojita or queso cheese or freshly grated parmesan
fresh cilantro chopped
As a cooking show junkie, I’ve picked up a few really helpful tricks that come in handy (if I remember them). One trick is to create a natural organic handle, from the bundle of husk pulled away from the cob to hold the corn when eating. The other is an easy and fast way to remove the silky strands.
Cut the top end of the cob off. Then place the husked cob into the microwave for one minute. Carefully remove (may be hot)from the microwave. Gently pull a few of the longer outer pieces of husks (remove)to be used for wrapping around the husk bundle. Form the husk bundle by gently peeling back the green husks without disconnecting from the cob. The silk threads will come together and softly pull away to discard. Gently gather the husk bundle and pull husks away from the end of the corn cob. Take a piece of the reserved husk fold lengthwise into a band. Tie and knot the piece of husk around the bundle. This forms a natural handle for holding the cob to eat after grilling and seasoning with the street corn ingredients.
On to the grilling. Brush each cob with olive or canola oil. A wonderful smoky charred flavor is best created on an outdoor grill, but the same charring can be made indoors on a grill pan. The husks will slightly begin to dry from the heat of the grill so slightly spraying with a water mist and keeping off the fire is best. If the husks slightly whither, just push the tied band up to hold the bundle together.
Brush on a mixture of mayo and sour cream (whatever variation you’re using from the list), sprinkle with chili powder, zest a fresh lime (the green part only) and then squeeze lime juice over the toppings. Sprinkle with grated cheese. Garnish with freshly chopped cilantro.
The Mexican Street Corn was a hit the first time I made it. So much so that our hosts said they would make it the following year. Oddly the year that followed, for some reason the harvest was poor; the corn was dry and not tasty at all. When no corn was served, some of the regulars in attendance approached me asking “Where’s the corn? I was looking forward to the corn!”
This year I’m making a different version of Mexican Street corn, in form of a bite sized fritter or cake like the image below. Same ingredients with a little flour for binding before forming into cakes and gently frying until golden brown.
Looking for a popular full flavored side or small bite for your weekend get together? These in season fresh corn ideas are a real winner!
Here’s a easy summer dessert for those hot days of summer…..
Lemon Blueberry Whip
1 – 8 oz bar of light cream cheese (room temperature)
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 cup of heavy whipping cream
1 tablespoon of granulated sugar
the zest of one large lemon (or two small)
1 tablespoon fresh squeezed lemon juice
1/4 cup small chopped candied lemon (I used about 4 slices of a pack from Trader Joe’s)
1 cup fresh blueberries
1 tablespoon agave (or 1 teaspoon sugar)
pinch of salt
1 tablespoon grape seed (or canola oil)
Preheat oven 400 degrees.
Yields 6 servings.
Reserve six fresh blueberries for garnish. Toss remaining blueberries with agave, salt and grape seed oil and place in a single layer on a small baking sheet with sides. Roast for 15 minutes. Blueberries will become dark, shrink some and create juices on the tray. Remove and cool completely to room temperature.
Place room temperature cream cheese and 1/2 cup sugar in a blender and blend until loosened and creamy (about a minute). Add lemon zest and juice and pulse a few times to combine. Stop, scrape the sides. Add the candied lemon peel. Pulse about 4 times.
In another bowl using a hand mixer whip one cup of whipping cream until reached to soft peaks, add one tablespoon sugar and whip to stiff peaks. Gently fold in about 1/4th of the lemon cream cheese until combined and continue by adding another 1/4th of the lemon cream cheese at a time until all folded together with the whipped cream.
Spoon the completely cooled roasted blueberries in equal portions into the bottom of each serving dish (small ramekins – I used pot a creme pots). Top with the lemon cream and smooth top with an offset spatula or backside of a spoon. Top with a fresh blueberry and lemon zest (optional edible flowers – in the photo are French lilac and chamomile). Refrigerate for 4 hours or overnight.
I woke up this morning to the rumbling of thunder that I could hear in the distance. Within minutes the rain was thumping on the roof until the wind kicked in and sent it thrashing against the windows. I felt guilty asking the Lord to clear the skies so my long planned afternoon tea could go on as scheduled, knowing there were so many more important things happening in the world that needed His attention. Instead I simply chanted in my head “I trust You and know everything will work out fine.” I started with cleaning up the house, the usual vacuum, mopping, and a little dusting before settling into the kitchen to begin prep for the final menu items of today’s Annual Remembering Mothers Tea.
Yesterday I decided to cross the lake and head to Trader Joe’s where I always seem to find exactly what I’m looking for. I was so excited to find French lilacs and selected a couple of bouquets. As I turned to place the flowers in my basket, on the opposite side I came face to face with an entire section of gladiolas! They were all tightly closed, so I searched for a bouquet that had a few flowers beginning to open, thrilled to at least have a bouquet that I could place in a vase and gift to Lydia after the tea.
My herb garden was abundant with violas and pansies that I had planted a little over a month ago. Lydia and another neighbor gave me roses and coreopsis. I carefully dried a variety of flowers and petals between paper towels in the microwave and I ordered an inexpensive letter stamping kit on Amazon. With all in place the cookie baking began and I employed Lydia’s help to decorate the cookies with flowers. Six dozen was quite a task, but together we managed to finish them all in a little over 3 hours, but over 2 separate days.
What you’ll need: Alphabet Stamp; dried flowers; cookie dough and sanding sugar. (There are a few different options of alphabet stamps on Amazon in various price points. They are very small and a little tricky to change the letter on the little rail tray, and don’t forget, the letters have to be installed backwards to stamp correctly.
Doing this part a day ahead will make the application time easier, but if done the same time as baking the cookies you may be in it for about half a day the first time.The first step is to cut clean, pesticide free, edible flowers with as little stem behind them as possible. Using the glass plate from the microwave, lay each bloom face down over two layers of paper towel. Once the sheet is full, carefully cover with two layers of paper towel and gently press down. Place a microwave safe dish that covers all of the flowers over the top.
Microwave in 30 second intervals for a total of 3 minutes. Let sit for about 5 minutes and remove the entire microwave plate, pressed flowers and press on top (be careful everything may be hot). The paper towels get slightly wet where the flowers were. The flowers aren’t actually dry until the paper comes out dry. Check after the 3 minute 30 second series. Each microwave is different and if not dried enough return and use a couple of additional 30 second turns. Gently remove the entire paper towel stack to a baking sheet and cover with another baking sheet leaving to further dry overnight for best results, but the flowers can still be used if not fully dried. I dried flat leaf parsley for the greenery. Oddly it was also very wet, but did not take as much time as the flowers, so be sure to check after about 2 minutes total in the microwave. Checking the result by pulling up a corner carefully and returning for more time if needed.
Remarkably, the flowers maintain their vibrant color even if their original color slightly changed.
With the flowers ready to go – on to the cookies.
Sugar Cookie with Lemon and Raspberry
Yields about 3 dozen cookies (used a 2 5/8th inch or 68 mm scalloped cutter)
1 cup of room temperature butter (2 sticks)
1 cup of granulated sugar
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract (I used Mexican Vanilla)
the zest of one large lemon (or two small) yellow part only
3 cups of all purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
2 tablespoons of freeze dried raspberries (crushed with fingers)
white sanding sugar
Pre-heat oven to 375 degrees.
In a large mixing bowl, cream together butter and sugar until smooth and creamy. Add egg, vanilla, lemon zest and crushed freeze dried raspberries and mix until well blended. Scrap down the sides of the bowl and mix again.
In a separate bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder and salt. With the mixer on low, slowly add flour mixture to the creamed ingredients. Once all flour mixture has been incorporated, put mixer on high and beat until the dough comes together and away from the sides.
Divide dough in half, form into a flat square and wrap each half into clear plastic wrap. Refrigerate for one hour. (If you refrigerate for long periods of time, the dough will be too firm, but you can let it sit out on the counter for about 10 to 15 minutes until is softens, but is still firm.
Open the plastic wrap and smooth out on the counter. Place the dough in the center. Cut another large piece of plastic wrap and lay on top. Roll out the dough to about 1/4th inch thickness (between the two sheets of plastic). This avoids drying out the dough with adding more flour and rolls out with less mess to clean up and after cutting out the cookies you can easily fold up the scraps with the plastic and re-roll.
Cut with desired cookie cutter and place each cookie on a parchment lined or silicon lined baking sheet. The cookies do not spread, but place about an inch apart. Place entire baking sheet in the freezer for 5 minutes. (I repeated and cut out all of the cookies with the remaining dough filling 3 baking sheets, each with a dozen cookies and placed all of the prepared sheets in the refrigerator or freezer).
Remove one prepared sheet after 5 minutes. Using a small bowl of water and a small paint brush, brush a small area on the cookie where you want to place flowers and arrange as desired, leaving space for word stamping if that is what you are going to do or it can be done with flowers only.
Once all of the cookies on the sheet are decorated with flowers, lightly sprinkle with white sanding sugar. (Important to sprinkle sugar prior to stamping word). If stamping with a name or word, now is the time to stamp. Gently press into the cookie. It actually works best if the cookie is a little more softened which is will be during the time it takes to decorate with flowers.
Return the cookie sheet to the freezer for 5 minutes (put your timer on) and take out the next sheet to decorate. After 5 minutes in the freezer, place decorated cookie tray into the pre-heated oven for 15 minutes. Take out of the oven and let cool for 10 minutes on the tray. Then move to a cooling rack until completely cooled. Repeat with the remaining cookies.
Packs of cookies used as place cards.
Other items shared in the previous posts to complete the menu are pictured below.
THE SANDWICH COURSE
The Scone Course
Mission Fig & Date Scones
Candied & Orange Marmalade
The Soup Course
Fresh Corn Coulis topped with shaved asparagus, fresh green peas, pea shoots, shaved fennel and corn kernels tossed in a white balsamic vinaigrette and edible flowers.
The Scone “To Go Boxes”
When I did a test bake a couple of weeks ago, the number of scones were so plentiful that I knew I would have enough to box and send home with the ladies. I purchased these white boxes at Michaels and lined the inside with floral tissue paper. Using mini sealed containers from the Dollar Tree, I filled each with the orange marmalade and candied orange that I garnished the top of those served with and glued some of the leftover dried flowers to the lids.
As the first of my guests arrived, there was still a slight drizzle falling, but shortly afterwards the sun began to peek from behind the clouds. As we toasted our mothers and shared more memories of them, the skies had cleared and the sun was shining brightly. I was filled with gratitude for our time together and that my friends would return safely home, free of storms.
My mother was not one to slave over the stove or bake a variety of goods when I was growing up. No homemade biscuits or cakes from scratch existed. In most cases she took the easy and economic route of canned and boxed options for meals and baked goods, convenience items created during her generation. However, later in her life when she retired, she took a cake decorating class and eventually became very adept at decorating cookies. My daughter’s baby and wedding showers had the most feminine, delicately iced antique baby carriage and wedding cake cookies that we all beamed over. I suppose it’s fair to say she had more time and patience to commit to honing these skills and spent hours making each exactly perfect and a work of art.
Beautifully presented tea treats excited her greatly and she couldn’t wait to see what the petite finger sandwiches and pastries would look like whenever we attended a tea service. The pleasures of the tea for both of us began with the anticipation of how pretty the presentation might be and what surprising new items we might find. While I want a pretty presentation at my own tea parties, everything must also taste good.
The Spring Soup Course
Each year I’ve started my tea with a small cup of Spring inspired soup. This year I found a recipe in Food & Wine Magazine for a Sweet Corn Coulis created by Commander’s Palace Chef, Meg Bickford. Chef’s version included grilled shrimp that I omitted from mine.
Other substitutions or variations in my version included lime zest and juice (in lieu of lemon juice); white balsamic vinegar (in lieu of champagne vinegar); crème fraîche (in lieu of sour cream) and Greek yogurt (in lieu of buttermilk). Basically use what you have that has similar flavors. The amounts needed are far too little to go out and buy a whole container of buttermilk when you can use yogurt if you have it in the fridge. Lastly I slightly blanched the shaved asparagus ribbons and tips after the peas (that I used frozen in lieu of fresh). Otherwise, I followed the recipe as written. The thinly sliced fresh vegetables gently tossed in a bright vinegar and grape seed oil, and then gently laid upon the sweet corn coulis, provided the perfect green brightness of Spring I was looking for. The link: https://www.foodandwine.com/recipes/grilled-gulf-shrimp-with-sweet-corn-coulis
Crispy prosciutto egg salad with paprika lace and chive blossom
While I like to have some of the menu items reflect memories of the honored mother, I don’t want it to be overly obvious. I try to consciously make different menu items from year to year, but when there is an expressed favorite, then it should be there for the tradition of the day. Below are goat cheese “heart-beet” canapés as a fun wink to our Nurse Theme.
No cooking necessary for this bright and cheerful canapé. All that is needed is a can of sliced beets and small log of blueberry crusted goat cheese (Walmart) and edible flowers. Using two larger slices of beets, place a sliced disk of room temperature goat cheese between the two beets and line them up evenly. Using a small heart shaped biscuit or cookie cutter centered over the top beet cut through the layers and that’s all there is to it! Garnished with a tiny dab of goat cheese on top and an edible flower like these garden violas, this little ruby jewel is ready for serving.
A fan favorite and sandwich that just always has to be part of a tea is the cucumber sandwich. To create a little update of freshness, I chopped fresh mint, added a little white balsamic vinegar and tossed it into thinly sliced ribbons of Persian cucumbers.
Spread crème fraîche and a little mint thinly sliced mint on one side of two pieces of thin sliced bread (like Pepperidge Farm). Lay the thinly sliced cucumber ribbons over the crème fraîche of one slice and then place the second piece of bread, crème fraîche side down, on top. Place more thin slices of cucumber over the top of the sandwich. With a sharp knife, remove the crust from all sides. Now cut sandwich in half to create two rectangular shaped finger sandwiches. Top with a small mint leaf and chamomile (or other edible) flower for garnish.
Mint Cucumber Sandwiches
Smoked Gouda Pimento Cheese Finger Sandwich
Lydia said her Mother loved pimento cheese and had recently discovered a smoke gouda pimento cheese dip (from Sam’s Club) when visiting a friend that she really enjoyed. So I assigned this finger sandwich to her. I do not have a “test” version of her sandwich for this post, but you’ll be able to see it in “the tea day” post.
Smoky Gouda Pimento Cheese
The great thing about egg salad is that anyone can make it. Boil a few eggs, peel, smash into a crumble, add mayo, a little salt and pepper, some paprika and you’ve got egg salad. What I don’t like, is its lack of texture. So I thought I’d punch it up by crisping some prosciutto in the oven and then placing a little sheet this tasty bacon-like flavor on top of the egg salad for a little extra texture and crunch. To garnish I sifted sweet paprika over the lace edge of a paper doily to create a lacy background before I cut two small slits in the bread and wove in the stem of a chive with a blossom on top. Finally a couple of chive ends were added to create a little leaf for the flower.
Crispy Prosciutto Egg Salad with Sweet Paprika Lace and Chive Blossom
The Scone Course
I asked Lydia to think about what her mother’s favorite flavors, fruits, etc. and wanted to incorporate some of those into the into the menu. Only a few items came to mind, which included figs (recalling images of her mother eating Fig Newtons); cherry came to mind, lemon and pimento cheese. An odd combination, but I knew I could find a way to incorporate the flavors into the menu. The pimento cheese will be used in a finger sandwich.
For the scone, I found this fig and pear recipe in Teatime Magazine (the link to the recipe can be found below). I did not use pears in my version, but instead used chopped dates, and topped with orange marmalade and diced candied orange. I decided to a little larger heart cutter for these.
I haven’t created samples or test versions of all of the sweet course items, but I typically make something fruity, something with chocolate and something pastry. For now I’ve made a small wink to Lydia’s mother’s “cherry” flavor reference with these chocolate liqueur cups, filled with French black cherry preserves and a Griottines (brandied) French cherry on top.
Simple and quick, but a tasty small bite of chocolate cherry, each cup is filled with about a teaspoon of black cherry preserves (pump with small cherries) and then topped with one Griottine (brandied cherry) and a tiny edible viola flower.
I hope you’ve enjoyed this peek into the preparations of my Mothers Tea menu items. Just two short weeks away! Be sure to come back to see how the party came together and the rest of our menu. So looking forward to our special day of remembering our Mothers and specifically honoring Lydia’s special Mom this year! Here’s to Mothers and Nurses everywhere!
With fingertips gently placed on the underside of the wrist, we can feel the gentle pulse of our heartbeat, the sound of life pulsing through the veins. Most often a slow easy rhythm, that can easily move to a fast racing beat when excited or exerted. It is this first joyful audio a young mother anxiously longs to hear, during the first ultrasound, that confirms her little embryo is indeed alive. Our heartbeat is a gift of life given to each one of us, by our mother. But one day, for some earlier and others later, the heartbeat that gave us ours stops, and they have gone home to the Lord. It is a void that I didn’t know what to do with, especially when Mother’s Day would come around each year and I no longer had my mother to share the day with.
Mom and I on beach in Bermuda.
I decided about four years ago, to reach out to some of my friends who had also lost their mothers, and suggested an idea of hosting an annual tea the weekend before Mother’s Day, to gather and spend an afternoon sharing memories of our mothers. The idea was well received with appreciation I never expected. And so a tradition was formed.
After the first tea, I wrote each name of the attendees on a piece of paper, folded and placed it inside of a teapot. I suggested that at the end of each tea, we would pull a name from the teapot and the following year the tea would be designed in honor of that person’s mother. This would not only make each year a little something new to look forward to, it would also help us to learn more about each individual mother.
The following year our tea was in honor of Katherine, a mother who was a Seamstress. From memories shared by my friend, she remembered picking blackberries with her Mom ( blackberry scones) and her sister remembered how she would cut flowers from their yard and then wrap them with wet paper towels and plastic wrap so they could bring the flowers to their teachers (fresh flowers on the table). Their memories helped spark similar or different memories of the rest of our group. Through our conversation, we learned our mothers had things in common and yet had never known each other. ( The Seamstress themed tea can be found in the Tea & Traditions category.)
With this year’s Mothers Tea only 30 days away, and my work days being very full, I would have to get to work quickly to create a special day like those we’ve shared in the past. The name we had pulled at the last tea was a friend who couldn’t make it to this year’s event, due to travel plans. (Ironically her mother’s theme was going to be related to travel). I selected a new name from the teapot and the winner was Lydia.
Shortly after selecting her name, I sent a list of thought points to help generate memories of her mother that we could gently infuse into the decor and menu. The list included different hobbies or interests, a favorite color, a favorite flower or flowers, food flavors and favorites that I may be able to use as inspiration for some of the tea sandwiches, pastries and scones. With these tidbits of information, I would then let my mind do its best to create a memorable table decor, menu and favors that hopefully somewhat represent her mother.
The first flower that came to mind for Lydia was the gladiola. She remembered her mother deconstructing and creating corsages with them. We’ve discussed some ideas for using gladiolas in the table decor (if they are available to purchase when we need them), but I first needed to create an invitation to send to the other ladies.
Lydia is a very talented artist, and I wanted her to apply her special artistic gift to creating the invitation. I handed her a box of blank cream notecards that were stored in the back of my desk drawer, and asked her to create gladiolas on the front of each notecard, explaining that I would then print and paste the invitation text inside afterwards. A day later, she delivered these six differently designed, beautifully drawn and colorful notecards. If we are unable to find fresh gladiolas for the tea, they have at least made an appearance on the invitation.
Now it was my turn. I had to create the invitation text honoring her mother and her years of service as a nurse. I requested a headshot photo of her mother and she brought me several to choose from, including a couple of her mother in her 1960’s nursing uniform and cap, but they were so dark that we chose the image below that was originally in sepia. I took a picture of it with my phone and edited to black and white, making the image clearer to see.
Using an old school method of cut, paste and tape, I found this pretty stethoscope with roses image online. I printed it, gently cut it out with small manicure scissors and after three or four edits of moving the text and photo, finally framed the top of the invitation and image of our honored mother.
After searching through my desk of supplies, I found a pearl monogram that I decided to pull the little pearls from and place in a few areas to add a delicate three dimensional touch. With a glue stick and very finely pointed culinary tweezer, I pulled and placed the little pearls along the top border and used a larger pearl for the center of the stethoscope.
Once completed and all tucked into envelopes, I placed a gold wax seal on each before mailing to the other ladies.
With the invitations in the mail, it’s time to brainstorm for the table decor, favors and menu. For our seamstress themed tea I decorated my padded jewelry mannequin with tissue flowers that also incorporated the tissue pieces of an old pattern and measuring tape ribbon. As I wrestled with ideas for our nurse themed table, I found myself returning to my little mannequin.
I searched for images of nurses in the 1960’s and sent one of the pictures to Lydia to ask her if it was the way her mother dressed. Her response was “exactly”. Once confirmed, I searched for a nurse cap, thinking of somehow decorating it and hanging it at an angle on the same mannequin form. I also ordered a symbolic nurse’s pin.
Rod of Asclepius Nursing
The rod of Asclepius (single snake around a staff, no wings attached) which is featured on the Star of Life, symbolizes healing. Again using a snake, the serpent sheds its skin and is a symbol of rebirth and fertility. The staff is a symbol of authority and represents the god of medicine.
When the cap and pin arrived I asked Lydia, (conveniently also my neighbor) to come over so I could share the idea I had for the table centerpiece. I demonstrated how I would set the cap on the mannequin and imagined trying to make a little white tissue paper nurse dress or decorate the body with white flowers. Lydia said her Mother wore a cape (that I recalled seeing in many of the images I found of the 1960’s nurse uniforms) and suggested she could make a little cape and dress for the mannequin form with some scraps of fabric. She also remembered she had the actual pins her mother wore.
Two days later, she delivered this adorable doll-like version of her mother’s 1960’s nursing uniform perfectly dressing my little mannequin form. We joked that from the back, the life-sized nursing cap look a lot like Sally Field’s flying nun (for those of you old enough to know of the television show from the late 1960’s). Her mother’s name tag was so small is looks like it was made for the small version model she created. It was simply hard to believe how cute it turned out. (Her mother would be so proud of her.)
As part of her memories, Lydia also shared that she thought she got her love for reading from her mother, who read stacks of Harlequin romance novels that she hid away. Lydia confessed with a giggle, sneaking books from her mother’s hiding place to read them. As a cute nod to this memory, I found several Harlequin romance novel covers on Pinterest. I decided to take snap shots of several “nurse” themed novels and create little book covers to place around the table.
When going through a list of things associated with nursing, I thought of gauze for wrapping wounds, bandaids, medications, syringes for giving shots, thermometers and so on, but very little could be translated into something pretty for the table. I didn’t want things to be too literal. I thought of making some kind of rosettes with the gauze or a ribbon with bandaids, all of which looked awful. Frustrated I pushed it all aside.
Finally, I had a bright idea! I had just thrown away a large plastic bottle emptied of my gummy vitamins. I pulled it from the trash washed it and sprayed it with some gold paint. I glued a pretty nurse’s cap image I printed from online that matched the inside of the invitation, outlined it with pearls to simulate a pill bottle label and then glittered the outside of the bottle. With a slightly smaller bottle I also spray painted I then covered the surface with brown glitter and another label, also outlined with little pearls.
Placed at the base of the mannequin form and hopeful to have fresh gladiolas on the day of the event, for now I staged this photo with a silk version. The only thing left to do is surround the center with some colorful fresh flowers and tiny bud must be added to the cape for a corsage.
For the seamstress themed tea, I made pin cushions with espresso cups (that looked like small teacups).
Lydia and I talked about making corsages (like her mother made) for each of the ladies (which still may happen if we can find gladiolas), but I wanted something that would fit in with our Nurse theme for this year’s favor. On the same evening I thought of the glitter pill bottles, I also thought of travel sized first aide kits. I searched for a cute version for a long time online, but they were either too large or too expensive and none had the feminine appearance I wanted.
Travel sized first aide kits for this year’s favors. Using bottle labels found at Michaels, I printed pink first aid crosses to glue to the center, placed a few little pearls (to match the invitation) and a small shear white bow for the perfect nurse themed favor.
I remembered my little travel sized kit that was tucked away in my suitcase. Its simple white case was perfect for dressing up with paper or clip art that I would have to figure out IF I could find the quantity I needed. Luckily for just a couple of dollars each, I found the quantity I needed at good ole’ Walmart (in the area with all of the travel sized toiletries are). I went to Michaels in search of some paper that I could create a cover with. While browsing around the store for inspiration, I found some Spring items marked down and bought a pack of bottle labels by Celebrate it.
Back home, ready to figure out my design, I pulled out the paper I had purchased and started trying to figure out what I would do, when the labels I bought caught my eye. I decided to open the package and discovered there were two labels that were the perfect size and looked similar to the art I used inside the invitations. I put one kit together and then immediately went online and ordered two more packs (there were only 2 of the size I needed in a pack) to ensure they were ready for pickup the following day so I could make all of the kits look the same. It’s when little things like this come unexpectedly together that I enjoy what I’m doing the most. One might say the spirit of Lydia’s mother is gently guiding our plans together in a beautifully un-orchestrated way.
Inside the package I was surprised to find small labels that fit perfectly into the center of the kit.
Until the day of the tea, my table is set and ready with only the fresh flowers missing. So for now I will move on to the menu once again trying to capture a little of Lydia’s mother in some of the items.
Our pulse, our heartbeat was given to each of us by a mother. We grew with the Lord’s blessing inside our mother’s womb, heartbeats at times in unison, until we were completely formed and expelled to become over the years who we are today. Follow along as we continue to put our hearts into the planning of this special day in honor of our mothers.
Note: Nurse’s Day is May 6th. Thank and honor the wonderful nurses in your lives this year.
We lost Mom 7 years ago today. She loved the blooming flowers and trees, and spent endless hours in the yard planting and trimming. When we lived in Southern California, she planted succulents everywhere, a place where flowerbeds were harder to maintain due to the droughts, water restrictions and heat. Knowing I was going to move into a newly constructed home with no trees, she took a piece of her Drake Elm and nursed it for months and then gave it to me to plant in my yard. Before the construction of my house was completed, she was diagnosed with a form of cancer, a cancer so aggressive the doctors could only offer treatment to extend her life for six months, of course shocking all of us. She did get to see me move into my house, but I didn’t find the courage to plant her little tree until about a year later when it had grown a little larger and stronger. I worried it wouldn’t make it, but like Mom it has proven to be determined and resilient. Seven years later, it’s the first tree to fill with leaves when there’s just the slightest hint that Spring is on the way, almost as if she’s sending a message that she is still there swaying in the breeze watching over me.
A tradition that takes place in mid-March each year that she also loved is the Feast of St. Joseph referred to as St. Joseph Altars. A line of people from the surrounding community wait patiently to be served a plate filled, usually with a variety of Italian dishes and fried fish. Often held in school cafeterias, long tables with chairs are arranged for sharing the feast, followed by a visit to view the many baked breads, cakes and cookies placed around an altar with a statue of St. Joseph. As you exit the building a table with a couple of parishioners are stationed with the “little coveted bags” containing a variety of little Italian cookies, a plain or sometimes gold painted dried Fava bean (said to make you prosperous if you carried it in the coin section of your wallet or in a pocket), a small piece of thin, sliced, stale bread that has been blessed by the priest (meant to place in your freezer for protection against hurricanes) and finally a St. Joseph’s prayer card.
Among the little Italian cookies, were her favorite, the fig cookies as she called them, with a little sweet glaze and festive colorful sprinkles. A group of Parish ladies worked weeks before the day to make large quantities of cookies, cakes and other food as part of “the feast”.
Today I made a batch of Italian fig cookies (Cucidati) for the first time in her memory. For some reason I imagined they would be more difficult than they were to make. I had convinced myself there was some special mystery to making them. The only thing they needed was time, and fortunately I found a recipe I had saved on Pinterest. I read through the recipe and instructions on Friday evening in order to take inventory of the ingredients and make sure I had everything I needed. The dough required refrigeration after being made from 3 hours to overnight. I had already taken some butter out of the fridge anticipating making some kind of cookies. So I quickly made the dough before going to bed and placed it in the refrigerator as instructed. (See recipe link below the photo of cookies).
I had to find some dried figs and buy a small pint of orange juice, but I had the other dried fruits in my pantry. Later in the afternoon I began to chop the dried fruits and place everything into a pot to stew as instructed and then set it aside to cool. I waited about a half hour to allow the fruits to completely cool and then took out the dough as per the recipe above, and let it sit for 15 minutes. I did not deviate from the recipe, but my only suggestion would be that once you place the line of filling in the center of the dough pieces, place the tray in the refrigerator for about 15 to 20 minutes to allow the dough to firm up again. This avoids tearing and having to patch where the dough doesn’t come together when pulling the sides up to overlap over the filling. I had to bake mine about 3 minutes longer (every oven is different) to achieve a little more of a golden cookie.
A traditional St. Joseph’s altar.
Once they were all cooled and the glaze was set, I divided them up and placed batches in sealed plastic containers to bring some to my brother, give some to a couple of friends and bring a batch to Dad. Dad can’t wait for me to bring his little container to eat! This was not only Mom’s favorite, it was a family favorite.
In addition to my Annual Mothers Tea (that had to be cancelled last year, but I’m in the process of planning for early May this year), I think I’ve found a way to remember Mom during the month we lost her that she would love, in addition to an annual celebration she enjoyed so much at her Parish Church. We miss you Mom, but have many memories of you!
With the arrival of Spring just a few days away, the first blades of fresh green grass sprouted up throughout the lawn; the azalea bushes are loaded with buds; the new foliage on the trees and bushes are swaying in the breeze and a dusting of pollen is sprinkled everywhere like powdered sugar on a beignet. My spring onions have beautiful buds so heavy that it looks like they’re bowing to the arrival of gods of Springtime.
Even my three year old Shamrock that just a couple of weeks ago had nothing but brown collapsed stems that I pulled away after the cold winter, had that magical sense of nature that knew it had to bloom with fresh green clover and a mix of white and lavender blooms just in time for St. Patrick’s Day this week. Knowing how quickly the days go from comfortable and breezy to hot and humid in the South, I employed the help of my handyman to help pull away the weeds, lay down some landscaping cloth and cover the front yard landscaping with fresh mulch.
Each time we schedule a weekend of projects around my house, I always greet him with something for breakfast. Yesterday I attended a little family crawfish boil and by day’s end I was out of time to think or plan much. I searched for inspiration wanting something quick, light and that I could make with ingredients I already had. I decided to make orange citrus popovers with roasted berries.
2 tablespoons of coconut sugar (or granulated sugar)
the zest of a medium sized orange
2 teaspoon of orange liqueur (Grand Marnier or 1 tsp of orange extract)
1 teaspoon of vanilla bean paste (or extract)
1/2 teaspoon of salt
1 1/4 cups all purpose flour
powdered sugar for dusting
1 cup of fresh blueberries
1/2 cup fresh blackberries (or raspberries)
2 tablespoons of agave or honey
2 tablespoons grape seed or canola oil
Making popovers requires a little pre-planning to ensure the eggs are at room temperature. I left them out overnight. The milk also needs to be at room temperature. Evaporated milk is in a can in the pantry, but if using an alternative, make sure it’s also at room temperature.
When ready to prepare the popovers, pre-heat the oven to 450 degrees (f). Place the popover pan (or muffin tin) on a lined baking sheet and place both in the oven. The popover pan should heated to the oven temperature.
Roasted berries: Place berries on a half sized baking sheet or oven proof stainless steel skillet. Toss with agave and oil and set aside.
Popovers: Crack and slightly scramble the eggs into a small bowl with the sugar. Zest the orange over the egg mixture, add the orange liqueur, vanilla bean paste, and salt. Gently mix. Pour the combination into a blender and briefly blend. Add the flour and blend until well combined. Scrape the sides down and make sure all of the flour has been incorporated into the wet ingredients.
Carefully remove the popover pan from the oven and spray each cup with butter spray or cooking spray (no flavor). Pour the batter into each cup about 3/4 up (not all the way to the top. ) Quickly place the pan back into the oven and bake 20 minutes or until puffed and golden.
Add the baking tray of berries to roast at the same time (check at 15 minutes to see if they are slightly collapsed and a blueberry syrup has formed on the tray. Remove from the oven and allow to cool while the popovers bake the remaining 5 minutes.
Orange segments: While the popovers are baking remove the peel with a knife from the orange and supreme the sections of the orange out with a sharp knife (called supreming) to serve alongside the roasted berries. https://thecookful.com/how-to-supreme-an-orange/
Turn the completely baked popovers over on to the baking tray. Using a tea towel or tongs to transfer the popover to a plate or large bowl. Spoon the roasted berries on the side, with orange segments and a sprig of mint or sweet basil. Sprinkle the popover with powdered sugar.
After a little Sunday morning tea and popovers it was time to head to the flower beds to weed, fill with some fresh soil and mulch. By mid-morning he front yard beds were dressed and ready for the coming Spring and Summer months ahead. One of the best ways to start a busy day is to take a little time to make something simple and elevate it with fresh flavors and a pretty presentation. These eggy, airy popovers did the trick this morning with a side of yummy roasted berries and citrus. Happy Sunday!
A week ago we experienced an incredible winter storm that set records throughout the deep south. As we shivered through temperatures as low as 18 degrees (an uncommon occurrence in our parts); none of us would have imagined that just a week later, we would have a warm, sunny but breezy, eighty degree Sunday afternoon, to gather on a friend’s back yard deck, and talk about our latest book club read, while enjoying a late lunch.
My friend and neighbor offered to host this month’s meeting, having a cozy outdoor space for our small group to gather. The characters of “The Fifth Avenue Story Society” took turns bringing take out food each time they met in the small back room of the historic library. One of those take out items was pizza, so my friend and her husband decided to make two homemade pizzas for our day. One deep dish Chicago style pizza and a margarita pizza, so I offered to help with a light salad and dessert.
For this outdoor gathering I found colorful large oval shaped paper plates with matching napkins at Tuesday Morning that were the right size and strong enough to hold the pizza. For the dessert I used clear plastic stemmed parfait cups from the Dollar Tree and disposable silver utensils.
No Recipe Salad
1 Napa Cabbage sliced into 1/2 rings; 3 white and 1 purple endive sliced into rings, 1 12 oz. package of frozen artichokes (cooked per package) -leaves pulled from the quarters -sprinkle with salt and pepper and squeeze 1/2 lemon over all; pull leaves individually and place in bowl with greens; 1 jar of sundried tomatoes in olive oil (drain & spread over greens; 3 cups of arugula; using the tomato jar, add 1/8 cup of white balsamic vinegar, to the tomato oil and 3 for 4 tbsps. olive oil and 1/2 lemon juice and 1/2 tsp. salt 1/4 tsp pepper shake and adjust salt and pepper to taste. Gently toss all ingredients in a large bowl – dot top with colorful edible flowers.
Pizza while delicious and comforting, is also heavy and I didn’t want a dessert with any type of pastry crust or cake. I wanted something light and knowing it would be a warm day, something cold. I found a no bake cheesecake recipe for inspiration, and used the filling part of the recipe, but the other layers were of my own creation.
Yields (8 )1 cup servings. Steps require to make one day ahead of serving.
1 cup of biscoff crumbs (created in small food processor or place in a zip lock bag and crush with a rolling pin)
6 to 8 biscoff biscuits
1/2 stick of butter melted and slightly cooled
zest of 1 of an orange (divided in half)
(1) 8 oz bar of light cream cheese (room temperature)
The bottom crust layer: Process 1 cup of biscoff biscuits in a food processor until crumbly. Add the zest of 1/2 an orange and 1/4 cup of melted butter and process until the ingredients pull together. Distribute equal amounts into the bottom of each dessert cup and press down with the end of a wooden spoon or muddler to form a crust. Refrigerate for 1 hour.
The second layer: Place cream cheese, 1 cup of diced strawberries, 1 teaspoon of Grand Marnier and 1/4 cup sugar into a blender and blend until well combined and smooth. Transfer to a bowl using a rubber spatula to scrape all of the mixture from the blender. Gently fold in one cup of fresh whipped cream. Fill cups with equal portions (I used a 2 tablespoon scoop to distribute to each cup over the biscoff crust.) Smooth top layer with the back side of a spoon. Gently tap the cup on the counter covered with a folded tea towel (to avoid breaking the cup) to remove air bubbles in the filling. Refrigerate overnight.
Berry topping: Preheat oven 400 degrees. Drizzle grape oil on to a small rimmed baking sheet. Add reserved 1/2 cup of diced fresh strawberries and 1/2 cup of fresh blueberries, and agave, pinch of salt and black pepper. Roast for 20 minutes. Cool to room temperature and then scoop roasted berries and all of the juices into a small jar or bowl and set aside.
Top layer crumble: Place 6 to 8 biscoff biscuits into a zip lock bag and seal. Gently crush with a rolling pin or wood spoon to create small pieces (not full crumbs), open the bag and add the reserved orange zest and chopped salted pistachios – seal bag and shake to mix ingredients.
To assemble: Just prior to serving, top the set cream cheese dessert cups with the roasted berries and their juices, then sprinkle each with the biscuit pistachio crumple. Top each with an edible viola (optional).
In this time of quarantines and hibernation, our sunny, breezy afternoon together was just the right dose of social gathering needed to add a little light to our week. As the trees and flowers begin to show the first signs of green buds and fresh blooms, the comfortable warmth of Spring is just around the corner and a great time to safely gather with a small group of friends on a beautiful day.