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.
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!!
Nearly everyone we know is experiencing some form of stress in 2020, from health concerns of a family member, to financial restraints, home schooling children, and more. Here in the South alone, our anxiety level has been on edge as we have waited out multiple hurricanes and tropical storms. As we try to slowly and carefully gather with small groups of friends once again, I extended an invitation to three of my neighbors for a late afternoon autumn lunch.
One of the ladies has been taking care of an ailing family member for a long time, and I thought she could use a day out of the house; another recently put her house up for sale and will be moving away within a month; and the third organized a neighborhood bunco group several years ago that brought us all together and has been one of my closest friends for nearly seven years. While my work life has been extremely stressful and busy, I find my joy in spoiling others. So this, my second Autumn luncheon was scheduled more than 14 days since the fondue and was limited to three guests.
A French Country theme works well in the Fall, and I prepared a Fall inspired menu that was partially prepared by me and partially purchased. I made the roasted carrot ginger soup a day ahead (most dishes taste even better the next day) , the poached pears and palmier I prepare the morning of the lunch; and I purchased the Autumn salad at a local cafe’.
The Autumnal salad was a new item on the menu that I had tried the weekend before, filled with roasted beets and sweet potatoes, red quinoa, pumpkin and sunflower seeds, golden raisins, spring greens and frisee, green apples, small broccoli florets, radicchio and topped with alpha sprouts. Tossed in an apple cider vinaigrette, it couldn’t be more perfect. There were so many ingredients that it was just more feasible to purchase two salads that I split four ways.
Apple Pie Wine
Roasted Carrot Ginger Soup with Crème Fraîche, Gremolata and Fried Shallots
2 lb bag of carrots (peeled and chopped into 1 inch pieces)
2 macintosh apples (peeled and cubed same size as carrots)
fresh ginger (1 tablespoon grated)
1 lemon zest the entire lemon ( juice see below)
salt and pepper
1 garlic bulb sliced in half horizontally
2 to 3 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 cup of coconut milk
1 quart vegetable stock
1 large yellow onion (thinly sliced)
Juice of 1/2 of the lemon)
1 small fresno pepper chopped
2 large shallots (thinly sliced on a mandolin)
1 cup of canola or vegetable oil
Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Drizzle a baking sheet with about 1 tbsp. olive oil. Place cubed carrots and apples, grated ginger, lemon zest, 1 teaspoon of salt and 1/2 tsp. ground black pepper into a large bowl. Drizzle with about a tablespoon of olive oil and then stir or toss with hands until everything is coated evenly. Pour onto the oiled baking sheet and spread into on even layer. Nestle in the halved garlic bulb and drizzle with a little olive oil. Bake for 20 minutes, then remove the the oven and toss with a spatula (turning carrots and apples over). Return to the oven and bake another 20 to 30 minutes until carrots are tender.
Meanwhile, add the thinly sliced onion and place is a small non-stick pan. Over medium heat slowly saute’. Add small amounts of water as they begin to dry or stick to the pan. Watch carefully until golden brown making sure not to burn. May take up to 20 minutes or more. Set aside.
Remove carrot tray from the oven. Let cool for about 15 minutes.
Carefully squeeze the softened garlic over the cooked carrots and dispose of all of the husks. Deseed and finely chop the fresno pepper (a 1/2 teaspoon of red pepper flakes is an option). Depending on the size of your food processor, you may be able to puree everything at one time or you may have to divide the ingredients into small portions and puree in batches. If making in batches try to use equal parts of carrot, apple, caramelized onions and fresno pepper. Add 1/2 cup of vegetable stock and puree. Continue to add stock 1/2 cup at a time until you reach the consistency that you prefer. Pour each batch into a medium saucepan to reheat. When all of the batches are complete and transferred to the pot, add the juice of 1/2 lemon and 1/2 cup of coconut milk to add a little richness. You may of course add as little or as much as you would like according to your taste. Just remember to taste as you add. Salt and pepper to taste.
Gremolata (optional) – this is a mixture of herbs (parsley, cilantro, thyme, sage) finely chopped, finely grated parmesan, toasted chopped nuts, and lemon zest. I even used some of the carrot tops (greens). Nut options can be pine nuts, pistachios, walnuts or other nuts can be added. A gremolata adds a little color and herbaceous freshness to the top of the soup.
Lastly, slice two large shallots on a mandolin (or slice very thinly with a sharp knife.) Place 1 cup of canola or vegetable oil to a medium saucepan and heat. Add the shallots and cook with an occasional stir until golden brown and crispy. Place fried shallots into a sieve or strainer to drain the oil. Sprinkle with kosher salt.
To serve place the heated carrot soup in a bowl, either swirl a small amount of creme fraiche (or sour cream or greek yogurt) over the surface. I placed my creme fraiche into a condiment squirt bottle, but you can use the tip of a spoon or even a zip bag and make a small cut in the bottom corner to apply the cream. Top with gremolata and then fried shallots.
The table was also dressed with a couple of pumpkins and a crock vase filled with sunflowers and hydrangeas. The napkins wrapped with twine and a crocosmia stem in bright orange.
I always have some kind of little take home favor for my guests. I found these miniature mums that were wrapped in Halloween paper that had a plastic coating. I removed one of the wraps and used it as a template to shape some gift wrap I had to recover each. I used a small tube of glue, to attache bot together, re-wrapped the little pot and tied with black gingham. I then cut out one of the gold bees and glued it over the ribbon knot. Trimmed the ribbon edges and placed one at each place setting. I also make pumpkin bread loaves that I wrapped and sent everyone home with.
A few hours later, we had enjoyed an afternoon of sharing the year’s experiences, offering support for each other’s future and a satisfying meal.
I have several friend between my wine club, book club and mother’s tea groups. So in few weeks I’ll be hosting yet another small luncheon for another 2 or 3. See you soon!
This is the first Easter Sunday that I didn’t have my family gathered around my table due to the “social distancing” world we are currently living in, but that didn’t stop me from preparing a meal and doing a little curbside delivery to my brother and a couple of my neighbors. I purchased a small two pound ham, made a pot of smothered corn from fresh cobs, and decided to do a little refrigerator and freezer dive to make something with items I already had on hand.
Crab 🦀 Pie
I remembered I had a pound of lump blue crabmeat in the freezer and found some mini pie shells I had purchased and forgotten to use. I started a small roux (from equal parts flour and olive oil) in a non-stick skillet and allowed it to become a mahogany brown before adding chopped onion, celery, red peppers and garlic. After those ingredients cooked, I added about 1/2 tsp salt, 1/4 tsp. of black pepper and small sprinkling of red pepper flakes – stirring to combine before adding about 1 cup of boxed seafood stock. The consistency should be saucy, but not watery before folding in 1/2 lb. of crabmeat and 1/2 cup grated parmesan cheese until evenly incorporated. The end result should be similar to the consistency of mashed potatoes. Place the tin lined pie shells (or a full size pie crust prepared in a pie plate) onto a Silpat lined sheet pan (this will prevent the mini or single pie plate from sliding around). Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Fill each shell with the crabmeat mixture, level each off and then bake for 30 to 40 minutes when the pie crust edges (including the bottom of the crust -take a peek) are also golden. SO that was quick and easy and delicious!
Spring Veggie🥕🌶 Tart
As I returned to my refrigerator to survey it’s contents, a container of pencil thin asparagus that I originally planned to oven roast caught my attention. I remembered seeing different versions of tarts made with asparagus on Pinterest and searched the freezer for some puffed pastry. Spring also calls from carrots, and the many versions of ways to cook carrots that I’ve seen on various cooking shows passed through my mind. So I decided to put both ideas together. Here’s what you’ll need.
9″ x 13″ sheet pan (half sheet)
1 Sheet puffed pastry (place in refrigerator overnight)
flour for dusting counter
4 to 5 slender carrots (peeled, ends cut off and sliced down the middle).
2 tbsp each olive oil and butter (in to a skillet)
1 tbsp honey
2 tsp chili oil
salt and pepper
8-12 pencil thin fresh asparagus
5 oz. container of shaved parmesan cheese (or shave a block with a vegetable peeler) – or shredded Italian blend cheese or other melty cheese like or Gruyère or white cheddar
fresh chives, fresh thyme
3/4 cup heavy cream
The photos above show the steps for preparing the carrot side of the tart. Select the thinner shaped carrots, peel, cut ends off and slice lengthwise. Add olive oil and butter to a non-stick skillet and when melted add carrots (sliced side down). Place another skillet on top of the carrots to prevent curling. They need to be straight for the tart. Cook for about 5 minutes until slightly blistered or browned on medium heat. (Carefully remove the top skillet using a dish cloth (it will be hot with steamy condensation on the bottom) then turn each carrot over. Add honey, chili oil, salt and pepper. Cover (I don’t have a lid that fits the skillet that I used, so I improvised using a piece of foil and splatter screen to hold it down) and cook until centers of carrots are fork tender- about 5-7 minutes. Drain the liquids from the carrots on a rack and set aside.
On to the puffed pastry. Line the half sheet pan with parchment paper. Dust the countertop with flour and roll out the puffed pastry one inch wider than all sides of the pan sheet half sheet pan (about 11″ x 15″) so that when placed inside the sheet pan the pastry goes up the sides (needed to hold egg mixture in). Dock (pierce) the surface of the pastry with a fork. This stops the pastry from puffing in the center. Place the tray of pastry in the freezer for 5 minutes to re-chill and pre-heat the oven to 400-425 degrees (depends on your oven. )
Meanwhile, measure 3/4 cup heavy cream, add two eggs, chopped chives and thyme.
Sprinkle the pastry with a handful of cheese; line the asparagus on one side and the carrots on the other; pour the milk and egg mixture evenly over the vegetables and then sprinkle another handful of cheese over the top. Bake from 30 to 40 minutes (depends on oven) until edges and bottom crust is golden brown for a crispy – not soggy crust.
When the tart first comes out of the oven it will puffed up, but it will sink as it cools. The tart is delicious warm, but also works at room temperature. Whether for brunch, lunch with a salad or a side dish, both of these tarts are simply delicious and easy to please.
February is the month to celebrate love. When was the last time you swept your loved one off of their feet with a simple romantic gesture? I recently rewatched the cute romantic comedy “Hitch” where Will Smith’s character as “The Love Doctor” inspires his clients with uniquely designed romantic gestures, suited specifically to capture the attention of a woman they want so much to win the heart of.
In that same spirit, here are some ideas to inspire you where the currency starts with nothing but time and thought if that’s all you have. Have someone help you beautifully wrap a box of chocolates with a luxurious silk or velvet ribbon. If available select a special vintage brooch from your mother or grandmother’s jewelry box (or find one in a local antique shop) and pin it to the ribbon’s center for a bit of Victorian romance.
Place a delicate bracelet, pearl or heart shaped earrings into a satin or velvet draw string bag and then tuck the bag into a Victorian Hinged Heart Shape Christmas ornament. Another Victorian style romantic presentation- more unique and thoughtful than the typical jewelry box. To wrap, lay the ornament inside a red velvet or specially wrapped box on a fluffy cloud of delicate tissue wrapping paper and it looks just as elegant as a faberge egg. (Pretty boxes often with bows can be found at Homegoods stores, charm bracelets and the individual charms can be found at affordable prices at craft stores like Hobby Lobby and Michael’s.)
How do I love thee…. let me count the ways….. A priceless gesture of love is something that comes straight from the heart. Rather than stopping at the drug store on Valentine’s Day to sift through the last of the cards remaining, filled with someone else’s words, why not sit alone and write your own thoughts into a poem for the one you love; words you don’t say often enough or not at all, long over due. Whether hand written or printed out from a computer, sign your name at the end and find a beautiful frame to present it in.
Some of the greatest love stories are based on hand written love letters discovered in the attic long after their authors are gone. Letter writing has become a dying art form and is totally unexpected. Never underestimate the power of what one can do for your relationship. Regardless of what your handwriting looks like, a hand written letter is personal, intimate and romantic. Whether mailed to the recipient or tucked inside a special place for the recipient to find, your words of love are recorded directly from your heart and hand to remember for years to come. A proclamation of love in one’s own handwriting to be read over and over again, is a truly romantic gesture.
Those of you who are fans of “Sex in the City” may recall the episode when Carrie discovers the numerous emails that her assistant moved to a folder containing the historic love letters of great men that her beloved “Big” had sent her everyday for weeks (captured from a book she had been reading long before their planned wedding) and then finally his own love letter that begged her forgiveness for his mistake. The truth is that there was no book of love letters in publication in reality and following the episode a small book was published when one could not be found. So there is at least one out there. What if you left a different love letter from the book each day for a week for your beloved and then ended on Valentine’s Day with one of your own?
How about a romantic concert at home while you sip on your favorite beverage with only candlelight and cozy blankets to cuddle up with on the couch? One very romantic concert that occurred years ago and was captured on DVD is Andrea Bocelli – Under the Desert Sky. He sings romantic love songs beneath the stars in Las Vegas. Diana Krall’s sultry cadence is another great candidate- Live from Paris. Either may inspire a little slow dancing around the living room. A variety of concerts can be found for streaming on Amazon.
Valentine’s Day is on a Friday night this year. The restaurants will be packed with couples, stressed out waiters, and long waits. Why not plan a romantic evening at home? Begin with a trip to the grocery store to pick up a couple of steaks, chicken or other protein that you can cook on the grill, a salad package with dressing and everything you need; and most grocery stores have chocolate dipped strawberries that can be served for dessert. Choose one of the favorite wines you both enjoy or that holds a memory of another romantic time you shared. An inexpensive bottle of bubble bath and votive candles. A bouquet of roses also would be nice, but if there are roses in your garden, snipping a bundle would work just as well.
So here’s the plan- try to get home before your partner. Surround a clean bathtub with lit candles, a small vase of roses and a poured glass of wine. Minutes before your partner’s arrival, fill the tub with warm water and lots of bubbles (if you hold your finger on the end of the faucet as the water flows it will froth the bubbles and they will rise and multiply). Once the tub is filled, drop a few rose petals on top of the bubbles. Lay a towel and your favorite nightie that she wears on a chair or bench. Hang a robe from the top of the door. Close the bathroom door and create a path of rose petals from where your partner enters the house to the bathroom door where the candlelit bubble bath awaits her. (By the way no one says you can’t join her – but since this is a surprise for her, wait to be invited.)
Invite your partner to take a hot bath to relax and unwind from the week, while you grill the steaks, prepare the salad and set the table. Either prepare a playlist of love songs you both enjoy or Pandora has a love songs station from Pop, to Country, or Jazz that can take care of the background music while you dine. (You may even play music from the artist that you will then watch in concert from the couch afterward in the previous section.)
The language of flowers can be considered floral poetry: “Floriography is the ‘language of flowers‘. Dating back to the Victorian times floriography was used as a means of coded communication through various flowers and floral arrangements, allowing people to express feelings which otherwise could not be spoken. For centuries, this cryptic language has inspired the giving of flowers to convey emotion. Floriography originated in the courts of Constantinople in early 18th-century Turkey, spreading throughout Europe and Asia, eventually making its way to America in the mid-19th century.” (source: Traditional Home Magazine & All Florists in the UK)
The rose is a classic symbol of grace and elegance, and while most associated with Valentine’s day because the red rose stands for love and passion and the pink rose is often given as a token of admiration and appreciation, the rose may not be your partner’s favorite flower. My mother, my daughter and I are all partial to hydrangeas of all kinds regardless of what meaning Floriography has assigned the luscious ball of beauty – but if you want to make an appropriate choice according to the philosophy -Pink hydrangeas symbolize heartfelt emotion. Blue hydrangeas symbolize frigidity and apology. White hydrangeas symbolize boasting or bragging. Purple hydrangeas symbolize a desire to deeply understand someone.
The tulip is also readily available this time of year. A Turkish legend may be responsible for the red tulip’s symbolism. The story goes that a prince named Farhad was love struck by a maiden named Shirin. When Farhad learned that Shirin had been killed, he was so overcome with grief that he killed himself – riding his horse over the edge of a cliff. It’s said that a scarlet tulip sprang up from each droplet of his blood, giving the red tulip the meaning “perfect love.” Different colors of tulips also often carry their own significance. Red tulips are most strongly associated with true love, purple symbolizes royalty, white tulips are used to claim worthiness or to send a message of forgiveness. Yellow tulips symbolizing cheerful thoughts, pink tulips – a symbol of caring, attachment (not as strong as love, like the red) and good wishes. They would be appropriate for a friend or family member or someone you’ve just met and have grown to care about, but it may be too soon to express love for. The colors typically have similar meaning with each variety, red – love; yellow-friendship; pink-admiration; white purity, forgiveness.
If you choose to consider the language of flowers in a mixed bouquet you present, make a little note about your selections on the card to explain the choices you made so that your partner realizes that your bouquet was personally designed with thought from the heart.
Maybe your partner has always wanted to go to Paris or Bora Bora or Africa , but it’s simply not in your budget. Create a night at home bringing that dream place to her. Let’s go with Paris for this example. Search images of Paris where she most wants to go, i.e. Paris cafe’s, Giverny Gardens. Engage the help of a friend or family member to help you transform a small corner in your home into an evening in Paris. A small round table, and two chairs with a white tablecloth – cafe’ style. Candlelight, white twinkle lights strung from above. Pandora has a French Cafe’ station to help you with the music. If you’re a cook, make a French bistro favorite or order from a French restaurant and bring it home. Buy a decadent chocolate dessert (Le Madeline’s Sacher torte is perfect or some other decadent chocolate favorite from a local bakery). You don’t have to do all of the work, let the resources out there help you with your plan.
If your partner loves chocolate – don’t forget the chocolates! Just know that you don’t have to spend a lot of money to get good chocolate. When I was a little girl, my Dad bought a Whitman’s Sampler box of chocolates every year for my Mom. I’d patiently wait for her to pull the plastic wrap away and lift the lid. She the chocolates with nuts were her favorite, so she always let me have the solid milk chocolate messenger man in the middle of both layers of chocolate. All these years later – the box still has two layers and costs about $15 – I’ve seen it for $7.99 on sale this time of year – you can wrap it beautifully as indicated at the beginning.
While Valentine’s Day has become filled with expectations of flowers and heart shaped boxes of candy – an unexpected well thought out romantic gesture goes much further than a last minute stop at the store to grab the last of what’s left on Valentine’s Day. I hope these ideas will inspire you to form your own expression of love with a thoughtful, heartfelt gesture that you know will please your Valentine. As for those of you who receive these special gestures, you are very fortunate and very loved – make sure to express your appreciation for the effort that has been made in your honor. Your encouragement made lead to more romantic gestures.
A candlelight picnic by the fireplace on a cold winter’s night.
A drive to an open area for star gazing with a thermos of hot chocolate, bring warm cuddly blankets and spend some time in the quiet to just talk and be together.
An Alpine fondue for two – see my Alpine Alsace Friendsgiving post – a cheese fondue can be made from scratch or there are boxed versions in the cheese departments that simple require heating. (Whole Foods and other wine stores that also sell cheese)
If there is a favorite restaurant that you frequent, ask to speak to the chef or manager. Ask if the menu for Valentine’s day has been decided. Negotiate to have the special prepared for you and your partner the weekend before the holiday – with your chosen table. This avoids the crowds and while you may not be a celebrity that can pay to close down a restaurant for the night for just the two of you, making this special private arrangement will make someone feel very loved and appreciated.
However you plan to spend your Day of Hearts – here’s wishing everyone love!
How to Literally Throw Together A Last Minute Party.
A couple of weeks before Christmas a friend and neighbor sent out a group text to a few friends in the neighborhood suggesting a New Year’s Eve get together. Not returning from their Christmas holiday until a few days before New Year’s Eve – she also noted “Nothing fancy!” She and her husband would be making hot roast beef sandwiches and each of their guests were asked to bring an hors d’oeuvre or small bite and their own liquor.
While visiting Trader Joe’s (which isn’t often since there isn’t one in my area) I noticed a display at the entrance that had a grouping of French sparkling wine and a Cava, each for less than $7. I placed one of each in my basket thinking of the purchase as my contribution toward toasting in the New Year at my friends’ party. As I navigated my way through the store I spotted the coveted barrel filled with the Danish almond pastry near the frozen foods section, that I’ve witnessed disappear quickly each year, but I’ve never tried. I thought this would make an easy dessert that no one had to work hard at creating. A great, pre-made, delicious, inexpensive dessert that we only had to toss in the oven for a short while and then serve fresh and warm. The packaging indicated that the pastry could be frozen until ready to use. Ah! This is good – so I tossed two into my basket – another contribution. As I wandered through the store I remembered I had some sparkler candles in my party stock at home, that we could add to each piece when served for a fun New Year’s presentation. When I returned home, I dropped off the bottles of sparkling wine to my friends to chill and stored the pastry in my freezer since they didn’t have room in theirs. This confection is already baked. Just leave out to bring it to room temperature!
Well…. you didn’t expect this party planner to stop there did you? While browsing through the remaining 60% off Christmas items at Hobby Lobby, I spotted this little champagne bottle ornament that I decided I wanted for my tree and reminded me of the centerpiece I made a couple of years ago with an empty Prosecco bottle that I filled with clear bubble like ornaments from the dollar store tied to floral wire to form stems. I made a mental note to pull it out of the closet when I returned home. As I continued to wander around the store, I found a rack with New Year’s Eve party horns, confetti, feathered headbands and 2020 eye glass frames marked down 40%. I texted my friend to ask how many ladies would be attending and I bought a package of headbands for the gals and 2020 eyeglass frames for the guys in black and gold (the colors of our New Orleans Saints). Again, I dropped them off to my friend when I returned home. (As I said, they’re on holiday and I don’t have the hats and glasses to share a picture.)
The ideas continued… (once I’m on a roll I’m on a roll). While refilling a basket with bathroom tissue I noticed there were several empty center rolls at the bottom. For Halloween I often save these and fill them with different types of candy and trinkets, then wrap them in orange and black tissue paper tying the ends with ribbon and plastic ring spiders to hand out to the kids. Maybe I could make an inexpensive party favor for the New Year’s Eve party. Hmmmm….
I searched my New Year’s Eve board on Pinterest for something I may have saved that I could print on the outside. I dug through my leftover Christmas tissue paper and found a couple of sheets each of silver and gold. I cut rectangular shaped pieces of the tissue paper to wrap around the paper tube, and with sides that extended to gather with ribbon and taped the cylinder sides dow each. I printed a few sheets of the “Midnight Kisses” printout and used a glue stick to adhere the label over the taped seam to hide it. I then tied one end with a thin gold ribbon (purchased 60% off) and filled each tube with 10 chocolate kisses – 5 wrapped in silver and 5 wrapped in gold (found on sale at the local drug store)- and then secured the other end with another ribbon tied into a bow. https://www.createcraftlove.com/new-years-eve-printable/ Voila!!! Party crackers for the party!
For my small bite contribution, I recently saw Katie Lee on The Food Network’s, The Kitchen introduce the audience to these individual small bite bries that I immediately recognized the packaging was from Trader Joe’s. While there in mid-December (when I found the sparkling wines and Danish pastry) I bought two bags not knowing when I would use them – but prepared. Katie’s small brie’s were topped with a bacon, maple, walnut topping. I’m actually considering adding some caramelized shallots to her ingredients for another layer of flavor. https://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/maple-walnut-and-bacon-brie-bites-7945376
Finally, when I made a quick run to the grocery for a few final ingredients for Christmas dinner, I couldn’t resist stopping into the large fireworks tent outside. A box of medium sparklers (18 sets of 4) was only $6. I brought them home and wrapped some of my gold clearance ribbon used on the midnight kisses crackers around each bundle and placed them into a dollar store vase I had as another midnight favor when sparks fly!
I hope my friend doesn’t mind my little contributions ( I can always tell her it was an accident). She should know me by now after all of the parties she’s attended at my house, that I just can’t help myself from adding a little fun and sparkle to a gathering. With very little time and effort, and very little money – you can throw your own party. Guests sharing in bringing the food and their own drinks – this is going to be a stress free New Year’s Eve!
Oh oh… I think I accidentally put together a party…. Happy New Year Everyone! May this be your best year ever!!! Stay tuned …. more party plans are on the horizon. Cheers!
If you were to read the pages of my personal journal for 2019, you might think the entries you found there are a collection of fictional stories filled with faith, hope, love and optimism. My year was not fictional. My year was filled with surprising and remarkable moments shared with family and friends; new experiences and new beginnings I could never have imagined -served like colorful sprinkles throughout the year.
While my blog for the most part is about entertaining, my passions include decorating, cooking, reading, writing and traveling. What my followers may not know, is that my full-time day job is working as a mortgage loan underwriter. My role is stressful, requires a lot focus and concentration, knowledge of ever-changing guidelines, independent decision making and patience. While it is a rewarding field that enables many to realize the pride of home ownership, the majority of responsibility of what constitutes an approval, falls on the underwriter. Someone once said, an underwriter wears the combined hats of an accountant, an attorney and a psychologist all at once. So forty hours or more per week I’m required to work quickly, intensively focus and accurately.
The industry has had it’s ups and downs, and for most of my career I have been fortunate to simply coast through the rough spots without being part of cutbacks; but in November of 2018 I was part of a workforce reduction and found myself unemployed for the second time in a four year period. Yes, it hurt and yes I was a little worried about how long it would take to find another position, but financially prepared and with the help of current and previous work colleagues, my resume’ was being circulated and until the time was right I could only pray and trust that the Lord would take over the situation and use my resources to lead me to where He wanted me to be . During the wait rather than sulk, I tried to use the free time I was given to be productive in ways I usually lacked time for.
A passion is something you can do everyday for hours, forgetting to eat or noticing how much time has gone by. Writing and creating has always had that affect on me. As a young teenager I wanted to be a writer, spending hours alone in my bedroom writing poetry and short stories. As with most of us, life’s responsibilities forced me to abandon my passion for a “real job”. For years I’ve wanted to create, write and share what I’ve learned with others, and recently I realized that a blog would provide the perfect platform to do so. Both limited time and fear of how to create a blog were holding me back from this dream for a long time.
I have been hosting parties for several years, some in the distance past, while more recent efforts have helped me to gradually excel in my efforts with some surprising results. Creating a blog would provide an outlet to share my ideas and write my stories. In preparation, I had written articles to accompany my party pictures (that over time I’ve put more effort into) and saved them to eventually insert into posts of my “one day” blog.
My knowledge of technology is limited and I feared the unknown. I didn’t have a clue of how to begin such a venture. I reached out for help, but the time was never convenient. One morning I woke up and decided I had to face my fears and prove to myself I could accomplish this and doing it on my own would make it all the more rewarding.
With nothing but time to figure the process out and the internet as my teacher, I watched multiple YouTube videos of how to start a blog. The information was more about content than how to actually step by step design a blog site, but I finally found the courage to create a domain and my first blog webpage. A year later with over 60 published posts, it seems like an old routine that I’ve been practicing for decades and challenges me to continue to create content for my followers and joyful memories for those who share in the parties and events I plan.
I remember the feeling of pride and confidence when it finally materialized before my eyes. It took a couple of days – days I would not have had if I had not lost my job. I decided that the job loss was actually meant to give me time. Time to dedicate directly toward personal things in my life that I would usually not be able to, because of my limited time off from my job.
Over the next five months my daughter, who lives in another State with her husband and my three grandchildren needed my help on two occasions while her husband had to go out of town for long periods of time for his job. I was free to visit just before Christmas for a week and be with both my daughter and youngest grandson for their birthdays. I then spent another the three weeks with them while her husband was away over the months I was unemployed. Having spent four weeks with them over a five month period in addition to they’re coming into town for a family wedding in March, I’ve enjoyed more time this year than I have in the past four years with my daughter’s family.
Over those months, other family members had brief health issues that I was able to step in and help them through, again time I would have fretted over due to limited paid time off while working. I also read several great books and I planned a lovely Seamstress themed Mother’s Tea and a fun Derby themed wine party for my friends.
While I was truly enjoying life (and a mini-retirement), the months were ticking away and finally in April I received a call to work as a contract employee for my previous employer. It wasn’t a full-time position, but a stepping stone that generated an income and a sign that business was improving. Two months later I was offered two full-time positions on the same day and started with my new employer in early July.
When I started my new job, I was so grateful to a past co-worker (the Lord using my resources from over 20 years ago) who recommended me for the position that’s benefits exceeded my expectations. It’s been a very hard acclimation, but only four months into the position, I’ve grown to feel like part of the current team.
As my contract resignation period came to an end, the week between positions contained a holiday – so I took that week off. I spent the week reorganizing and cleaning the house. During that process I found a blank poster board and had a stack of magazines to dispose of. As covered in my previous post “Creating a Vision Board”, I’ve kept a vision board for years and have done my best to imagine my life evolving into the pictures I had chosen. So much of those images have materialized at some point or another. I was drawn to look over the images on my current vision board – and focused in on the areas that have not yet manifested into my life.
My board is so filled with images, that I decided there were two areas that I very much wanted to manifest sooner rather than later, and that maybe I should create a new board focused solely on those two areas. One was to meet someone to share my life with and the other was to travel after having a decade long sabbatical from both.
It has always been my dream to go to Paris and search through culinary stores, flea markets and eat my way through all of the delicious cuisine while also soaking in the art, museums and culture. For various reasons, my last real vacation took place many years ago, but it was a beautiful tour of Rome, Florence and Venice. France and England were higher on my wish list, but I hoped to travel to many parts of Europe over time.
I briefly considered flying to Boston, the week I had off between jobs to see the Downton Abbey Exhibit, but it was the 4th of July week and I knew it would be pricey and crowded. But I did find an image of the Exhibit in one of my magazines that I glued to the board. As I flipped the pages of a travel magazine, I found individual black and white images of several European countries that I cut out and randomly glued to the board under the word “Travel”.
While making my benefits elections for my new job, I was advised to enter the date of Dec. 31, 2019 into the vacation calculator to determine what my accumulated time would be by the year’s end. I was then advised I needed to schedule the time off before the year ended. I discovered I had a little more than a week of time to use and a spontaneous idea was sparked!
A friend of mine was currently house sitting in England. She at some point was moving on to another sitting position at a house in Germany. I knew nothing about where or when, but I asked her if I could fly over and spend a week with her. Within days, I discovered another of our friends (from the wine club) was going to meet her and I scheduled a flight to arrive a day later than her arrival (based on the time I could get approved for time off.) The house was located in Southern Germany very near the borders of Switzerland and France. If you take a look at the images of countries I randomly glued to my new board, can you see any resemblance to what I just wrote -to the vision board above??? Seriously??? Front and center – Germany, Switzerland and France!
The lovely 300 hundred year old part time home we occupied during my visit in Germany.
I’m usually someone who plans months and weeks in advance, having a neatly prepared itinerary, and hours of research to create an informative understanding of where I’m going and what I’m going to do or see. With only an airline ticket and packed luggage in hand – spontaneity I’m not known for, a brave face and churning stomach, I boarded the plane for a 9 hour flight to Frankfurt, Germany.
Traveling to a foreign country with a language I didn’t understand, alone was terrifying, but the unexpected kindnesses I experienced along the way got me through. A couple was seated across from me at the airport in Atlanta (our connection flight to Frankfurt). A polite smile was exchanged, but it didn’t take long to realize they were German. When the boarding process began, we both stood in the same area to wait our turn and I noticed they had a shopping bag from California. To open a little dialog I asked them where in California they were coming from. We chatted for a while with their limited English and then boarded the plane. I had told them I was very nervous and this was my first time flying to Germany. They told me most of the people spoke English and I shouldn’t be concerned. Later on the plane I noticed they were seated in the middle section of the plane just a couple of rows back from me.
At the end of the flight, I made my way through immigration and found my bags. From there I asked for help to get to the train the would bring me to my final destination. I had boarded the shuttle bus that I was directed to that would bring me to the train station and within seconds the German couple jumped on to the bus just before it was about to leave. My hand rose to my heart when I saw them. I was so happy to see them because I needed help with the whole train situation.
They stayed with me to assist with buying my round trip ticket. Afterwards there was an hour before the train would arrive, so we visited over coffee and tea at a Starbucks in the station and then they helped me to the gate where I needed to board the train which was further up than their gate. My gratitude for this lovely couple is beyond anything I can express, but they were not the only kind people I fell into the care of. At every point of concern of how I would manage to get further, someone would materialize from out of nowhere and help me carry my bags up steps, or direct me to the right area to find what I was looking for or had to go to. We even had other travelers from other countries give us Swiss Francs to put into a parking meter when we only had Euros. Each experience restored my belief that people of the world can be amazingly kind.
Even now it still feels like this last minute- spontaneous trip was all a dream. In fact the entire year has been a bit of a dream, all started with the loss of a job and followed by so many joyful gifts. When something shocking or unexpected happens in your life, it will be scary, it will be stressful, and you may not know how you’re going to work things out. Give your fears to God; lean in and be open; try to see it as an opportunity to discover something new in your life; rely on your resources; reach out to people who know the hard worker you are, reignite a talent you’ve been suppressing for years, and trust that your new beginning was meant to lift you higher and give you more.
In this New Year -resolve to be open to whatever is coming with love and gratitude. Tell the universe “I trust you! Surprise me!” It’s incredible what amazing blessings can enter into your life when you invite them in. Usually the year feels like it passes more quickly year after year, but this year my life was so full, I accomplished so much that makes my heart happy, that it felt like more time has passed than what actually did. It felt like it’s been two years rather than one. Maybe when you fill your life with everything you love and open up to new unexpected experiences – life is simply fuller.
My intention when I started my blog was to share ideas that would bring people together. Resolve in this new year to be kinder, to practice random acts of kindness and thoughtfulness; resolve to regularly gather with family and friends, resolve to try new things and share what you learn with others, to open yourself to what’s coming instead of fearing it! Cheers to new beginnings! Wishing all of my followers a very Happy and Fulfilling New Year!!!
Jesus Calling: December 21
My plan for your life is unfolding before you. Sometimes the road you are traveling seems blocked or it opens up so painfully slowly that you must hold yourself back. Then, when time is right, the way before you suddenly clears — through no effort of your own. What you have longed for and worked for I present to you freely, as pure gift. You feel awed by the ease with which I operate in the world, and you glimpse My Power and My Glory. Do not fear your weakness, for it is the stage on which My Power and Glory perform most brilliantly. As you persevere along the path I have prepared for you, depending on My strength to sustain you, expect to see miracles — and you will. Miracles are not always visible to the naked eye, but those who live by faith can see them clearly. Living by faith, rather than sight, enables you to see My Glory.
Psalm 63:2 English Standard Version So I have looked upon you in the sanctuary, beholding your power and glory.
2 Corinthians 5:7 English Standard Version for we walk by faith, not by sight.
John 11:40 English Standard Version Jesus said to her, “Did I not tell you that if you believed you would see the glory of God?”
Who says a gift card is boring? When I found this large 3 foot tall popcorn box filled with three kinds of popcorn I knew it would be the perfect prop for a movie gift card. Individual serving paper bags are attached and the gift card slipped inside, tied with a large bow and an old fashioned pop corn machine Christmas ornament. (As the stores continue to reduce the prices of Christmas ornaments and decorations consider picking up some that can be used to adorn your gifts this year and the next.)
An odd shaped gift still deserves to be pretty. Wrap your paper around its shape and extend the top about an inch higher above the packaging before folding over. Punch two side by side holes with a hole punch and thread the ribbon from the back and then fasten a looped bow in front. Add a pretty little dollar store ornament for a little fun and sparkle.
A cheerful little red feathered cardinal (2 per card at the dollar store) – “A Little Birdie told me you wanted this!”
Christmas can be a little melancholy for some. Here’s a way to cheer them up. An elegant gold box of chocolates tied with a cheerful red bow and pinned with a beautiful brooch. (Antique shops often have several designs in a glass case to choose from – or a new one may be available at a department store.) I wear my brooch on my sweater or coat and all day someone stops to tell me how pretty it is. What better way to lift someone’s spirits than to give them something that others will notice and compliment throughout their day?
For the person who loves to cook and or bake …. Spices are bought in large quantities and only a small amount (i.e. a teaspoon at a time) is used in each recipe. Years later the bottle can look like it has been hardly used. Replacing spices every year can be costly. Even someone who bakes and cooks as often as I do can discover a bottle that’s been in the pantry for far too long. As spices age they lose their freshness, fragrance and flavor. Baking ingredients like pure vanilla or almond extract or the ever growing popular jar of vanilla bean paste are pricey to restock. But there are spices in every price range for your budget. A fresh supply would be a great gift to cheffie. Cinnamon, paprika, white or black peppercorns, Sea or French gray salt are a few examples.
Another less costly idea is to purchase spices in packets. The spice in the jar can be emptied, retaining the bottle, washed and refilled with the fresh spice packet. Throw in a couple of unusual spices to experiment with like Zatar, Sumac, Cardamon, Chinese Five Spice or Ras El Hanout.
Not every cook has one of these – a garlic canister with little holes on the sides for air to flow through. I purchased this one a World Market Cost Plus. Some culinary stores have ceramic versions as well.
On to the love of travel. Is someone you know dreaming of a special bucket list vacation? Wrap a current guidebook and embellish the bow with a symbolic ornament might manifest that dream this year.
Place an order for a travel magazine subscription – wrap a current edition with the note inside and an interesting luggage tag as a gift card.
Dress up a plant for a friend or as a hostess gift. This orchid planter was purchased at Trader Joe’s. I also purchased a packet of green pine and evergreens and stuck them into and around the plants. I added a couple of pine cone shaped ornaments. While this version was fine, I wanted to do a little more. So I made a bow and tucked the small ornaments in its center.
Below: Giving a little piece of jewelry this year? While a velvet box is wonderful, consider presenting the item in a new unexpected way. This little bee pin is hiding along the branches. It may seem that only an orchid plant is the gift – until you zoom in. Earrings, bracelets or a delicate necklace could easily be hung from within an arrangement.
The reason for the season … a gift for yourself or someone you know who is going through a difficult time or simply wants to grow in faith… I’ve given so many copies of these books away that I’ve lost count. When someone is so broken that they can’t even find the strength to pray, Illuminata is filled with beautiful prayers for every kind of petition and Jesus Calling (that was a gift given to me several years ago) offers daily messages based on scripture that somehow seem to be exactly what you need to know to get through every day. The spine of mine is greatly worn from so many years of reading its pages.
When I’m at a loss for something to give that friend or family member, I will sometimes find something to give that involves spending time together. Below I purchased two of these knitting kits (one for me and one for my friend) with a card that explains my gift comes with time spent together. One year a friend and I decided to each buy a ticket to see the Beauty and the Beast musical as our gift. We went to dinner and the theater one evening together as our gifts to each other.
I bought one for you and one for me. I thought we could spend a few afternoons together knitting.
While these are only a short list of gift ideas, I hope they will inspire you to think about who you have to give a gift to and do what you can to make your gift meaningful. In our busyness, it’s easy to fall short no matter how hard we try. I struggle to find something for those I want to present with a gift, but have done so for so many years that my idea well is dry. In an ideal situation, we would start our list in January and each month look for something special for one person at a time. Unfortunately, we do well for some and not so well for others. I believe in attaching a gift receipt. We all work so hard for the money we earn, and I would rather someone return something that wasn’t the fabulous idea I thought it was and exchange it for something they would prefer. These ideas were meant to generate ideas for the last minute shopper or busy bee whose schedule is so packed with work, school and family or other roles, that they can’t spend hours in a mall.
May all your gifts come from the heart and your holiday be filled with blessed moments and memories. Blessings and happy wishes to all!
Weekends during the month of December fly by so quickly packed with shopping and a variety holiday themed activities of every kind. While I love the festive beauty and nostalgic glow that Christmas decorations and music offer for entertaining, by the time December arrives I’m a little worn down from a year of hosting parties all year. I love holiday baking and cooking which both consume a lot of weekend time also. While the idea of hosting a Christmas party simmers in my mind each year, my energy level has fizzled to glowing embers and I just can’t get the fire started to put together another party.
My daughter, her husband and my grandchildren usually come home for Christmas week and my point of focus is on preparing for their arrival and reserving energy to dedicate to my grandchildren. As a full-time mortgage loan underwriter, my days are busy at work like most of you and weekends are precious time that must be wisely scheduled to accomplish everything that the holidays demand. One year however, my little family decided they would being staying home, so I decided to host a small cocktail party, but I needed it to be as stress free as possible.
Christmas parties can draw from many different themes, but short on time, I had to use what I had. As I dug through my boxes of Christmas treasures I found my Twelve Days of Christmas linen napkins I bought on clearance one year at Williams Sonoma. I pressed each on the ironing board and lined them across the table. They provided both a pop of Christmas colors and fun.
My neighbor had just purchased a fresh tree and trimmed some of the branches from it’s trunk. They were piled beside their trash can, so before they were picked up by the trash collectors I grabbed them and once again glanced around the house for a place to use them. The chandelier in the center of my living room caught my eye. I didn’t put up a Christmas tree this particular year since the kids weren’t coming home, so I needed to add a little spruce drama to the room. Using floral wire, I draped and tied the branches to the chandelier and then made a large bow that I attached to the bottom center.
Next for the refreshments. A cocktail party needs cocktails and a place to prepare and serve them. I surveyed my living area considering the best way to arrange the room for a cocktail party. I decided to have three stations around the room with drink options. A Moscow mule station with labeled bottles, ice, sparkling wine, garnishes and the recipe was created on top of my entertainment cabinet (above); a large punch bowl filled with eggnog set on top of a copper bowl filled with ice (a mixture of bottled eggnog from the liquor department combined with a jug of dairy department eggnog and a pint of rich vanilla ice cream swirled in) punch cups, a ladle and a couple of nutmeg pods with a small grater on the side to top off each cup were set up on my cocktail cart; and finally my mulled wine (a combination of red wine, brandy, grand mariner, ginger beer and mulling spices) simmered in a crock pot on the kitchen counter with a bowl of blood orange slices for garnish (below) for easy self serve access. Cocktail napkins were also provided at each location for a guest to hold around their glass.
I envisioned my guests walking around the room helping themselves to a drink and the food also placed in different areas around the room, allowing me to also enjoy the party and visit with my guests.
I cleared off every surface in the room and placed platters out to plan what I would serve and where I would place each item around the room. I chose items that could be made ahead and served at room temperature or in a warming vessel such as an electric fondue pot or crock pot.
On the breakfast table (above) a White Velvet Soup stayed warm with the help of a crock pot. A stack of small bowls and a tray arranged with the toppings and spoons were provided on the side; Bourbon meatballs to the right with small cocktail forks.
On the dining room table, (above) a spinach dip twisted bread stick Christmas tree; (below) two trays with various cheeses, crackers, olives, pickled mushrooms, etc. and finally dessert – a red velvet roll cake with whipped cream cheese and coconut shavings to resemble a buche noel that I sliced later in the evening and served.
With Christmas music in the background, this party required no formalities and allowed everyone to mingle and converse the night away while sipping and nibbling around the room. I hope these make ahead and self serve station ideas will inspire you if you’re considering hosting your own Christmas gathering this year and feel like you just don’t have the time. Store bought small bites and pastries would work just as easily with no cooking or baking required at all. Use what you have and just add a little sparkle to make a toast to the holidays!