This is going to be a kiss-on-the-cheek, “Glad to see you, hope you’re doing well, but I gotta run!” blog post because all that talk about sheltering-in-place propelling people to fix up their homes is true. It’s the silver lining of Covid-19 for the design industry: it’s booming! It’s so busy, in fact, it just occurred to me to tally the number of bathrooms I’m designing, as the number keeps growing, and it turns out that number is twelve. Twelve!All at once! Add to that two entire house remodels and there’s not a lot of time for blog posts.
But it’s almost Valentine’s Day, a holiday I’ve always loved because it’s about well…love and kindness and unlike all the other holidays where the corresponding merchandise (all-things-hearts) is tacky a few days later (Shamrocks in January? A Menorah in March? Easter Eggs in August? The style police will cite for such things!) all the things associated with Valentine’s Day (hearts, flowers, chocolate) are good year-round. So in honor of this lovely, love-themed holiday, here are some ideas to decorate for it!
Here’s a use for all those brown paper bags we’ve accumulated while we’re not allowed to bring our reusable ones to grocery stores! I first made these “L-O-V-E” paper napkin rings for the cloth napkins at our wedding to add a homemade element to the table-setting. For a bit of nature, I tucked in a sprig of lavender. Did you know lavender has long been considered an herb of love and apparently Cleopatra used it to woo Mark Anthony (or so says the Internet!)?
To create these, use scissors (or a paper cutter for more uniform strips) to cut strips 3/4″ wide from a paper bag. Make sure they’re long enough to wrap around your paper napkin and slightly overlap at the back. You’ll later use clear tape to tape the ends at the back closed.
Use letter stamps or hand-write “LOVE”, “Happy Valentine’s Day!” or a dinner guest’s name on the paper bag strip. Wrap your napkin ring over your napkin folding the open ends of the strip in the back. Tape the ends on the backside closed to create a ring. Option: add a sprig of herbs or flowers. If you don’t have lavender on hand, here are some other herbs that are also linked to love.
These roses made from beet peelings are really easy to make–I promise! And they’re a perfect way to add some romance to your salad–or at least some healthy beets. 🙂
Remove the outer skin of your raw beet root using a peeler (I like this one by OXO because it creates peels that are fairly thin which makes them easy to work with). Make one long peel and roll it into a rosebud shape making it tightly wound in the center and looser towards the outside.
Use knives or toothpicks to hold the beet roses in place prior to serving. (I like to make them about 1/2 hour ahead so they have time to set). Use as a plate garnish, to add color to a salad, or to decorate a veggie platter or charcuterie board. Of course they’re edible and taste good, too!
Our tablescape for February has been these hands from IKEA (they are really the coolest things, so well-made and very reasonable) positioned to spell L-O-V-E in sign language.
Here’s a closeup.
If you want something sweet to eat on Valentine’s Day, besides chocolate, I finally found a recipe for donuts that resulted in donuts that actually taste like they came from a donut shop: my highest praise for donuts. This recipe for French Crullers.
Essentially you make choux pastry and fry it but instead of just plopping a spoonful of dough into the hot oil (which is, apparently, how you make beignets, I’ve since learned) you pipe a ring onto parchment paper and plop that into the oil, face down, and remove the paper after a few seconds of frying.
I’ve tried so many donut recipes that disappoint (and take much longer due to rising time), but these work. This little extra step of piping onto paper was worth it; they were so good…even hours later and cold!
In other news, the sun made a brief appearance last weekend and we made a mad dash to the backyard to do some sprucing while enjoying the sunshine. One of the projects that provided nearly instant gratification was adding river rocks to an area of aloes we has planted around the base of a yucca tree.
Here it is Before.
Behold the transformative power of river rocks!
I tried this English Oat Cracker recipe by Ina Garten and it was a hit. I must say, I never thought I’d be making crackers, but staying home all the time does strange things to you. Note: the recipe says it yields 24 crackers, but when I made it I had so much dough I was able to make four fresh batches (I’d make them “to order”, so to speak) of about 15 crackers or more so it made many more than the recipe suggests–which made us happy! 🙂
Making the dough and pressing even amounts onto parchment paper prior to baking the crackers is the only part that takes any work; once you have the dough (I stored the excess in the fridge in a gallon-sized Ziplock bag) you can have freshly baked crackers (which are quite a comforting treat!) nearly on demand!
I bought this basket from Target’s Project 62 Collection with Studio McGee and decided it made a nice way to corral quite a few things on the coffee table–including the remote for the television which, prior to this, I’d hide behind a rattan lamp in the kitchen because I don’t actually like how remotes look. Now, we can have the remote within reach and a nicely styled coffee table, too. Win/win!
Note: If you’re interested in this basket, don’t hesitate too long as the Target collections with design empire Studio McGee tend to sell out very quickly!
Here’s the big picture so you can see how the remote is fairly well hidden in the basket.
And that’s a wrap!
Thanks for stopping by and I hope you your Valentine’s Day is lovely and filled with love!
Last week was a tough one. Wednesday as our nation watched the Capitol being stormed by marauders, I imagine we all felt like we’d traveled to an alternate universe where a despotic president ruled and he had awakened the unruly. Watching the live coverage, I found myself bursting into tears, unusual for me. I’d just heard LA County had directed their ambulance drivers to pick up only those who had a chance of survival as hospital beds were at maximum capacity and…wait for it…there’s now a shortage of oxygen.
Between the doom and gloom of the coronavirus and riding a political roller coaster that can make your stomach drop with every check-in of the news, it’s all a bit much, isn’t it? I turned off the TV, threw myself into designing a client’s master bathroom and it worked; while distracted, I was pulled out of the vortex of sadness. But it got me thinking, what are some other ways to find happiness? Just in case you’re still feeling like I was, a bit rutted in the muck of melancholy, I thought I’d make a list of 10 ways to find happiness in 2021.
1. Do something for others: I don’t know why this one works, it just seems to. On those weeks when I have a case of the Mondays that continues Tuesday through Sunday, if I ask myself, “What can I do to help someone else?” it takes the focus off me, and thus, my woeful mood. Side story: the other day, Kai, our five-year-old, and I were in the car, driving to a friend’s house to drop off some desserts I’d made as as a sign of, we can’t be with you, but we care about you.Steve Winwood’s Higher Lovewas playing in the background and Kai asked, “What’s a pie of love?” I laughed as I realized when Steve sang “Bring me a higher love” Kai was hearing “Bring me a pie of love” because, in a way, that’s what we were doing delivering baked goods: bringing pies of love!
If you think you, or someone you know, could use a pie of love, this recipe for a Bakewell Tart from the Downton Abbey Cookbook, is delicious. (PS, I received the Downton Abbey Afternoon Tea Cookbook for Christmas and have since tried three recipes, Cream Scones, Ginger Biscuits and the Bakewell Tart and they’re all worth making.) If you’re a fan of raspberry and almond flavors, your taste buds will be more than happy with this tart!
Update on my rattan cart: I’m still in the honeymoon stage with my rattan bar cart which I gifted myself (good ole retail therapy!) and quickly repurposed as a dessert cart. I usually keep a dinner bell on top which I ring to signal dinner is served (because it’s fun to ring a bell and sometimes actually necessary to get both husband and son to the table). After the meal, I roll the cart up to the dining table to offer a postprandial dessert course. This fills me with glee to no end–unless I turn on the news, The Great Glee Evaporator, soon after, and then the happiness dries up. Lesson:consider watching less news.
2. Surround yourself by pretty things. I’m a firm believer that our environs play a huge role in our mental well-being. When we’re in a beautiful setting, our moods magically start to elevate. I know not everyone can afford to transform their home but it can be the little things like serving your meals on decorative plates with stylish silverware or using pretty cloth napkins, instead of their less Eco-friendly paper cousins, that make all the difference.
I requested these napkins for Christmas and I’m so glad I did. A set of 20 is $32 (making each napkin $1.60) and you get a random bunch. I’ve never used mismatched napkins before, but there’s something liberating about it and all the colors are so vibrant and cheery. I was worried the colors would run and I’d have to wash them separately, but they haven’t and since we’re using them at nearly every meal, they’ve been washed quite a bit. Their consistency is a bit more like a handkerchief than a regular cloth napkin, but that almost makes them more comforting to use like you’re wiping your mouth with a hanky. 🙂 Similar source found here.
In other news, I recently ran a row of sake cups down our table and popped a votive candle in each. Now the cups serve as unexpected tealights and add a welcome twinkle during dinnertime. Other pretty votive holders can be found here or here. Here’s one of the napkins in use, below.
3. Staying connected with others: This one’s hard, right? These days getting together can feel downright homicidal, so the responsible ones among us avoid it. In an effort to find a way for some of our family members to stay in touch, JB’s dad devised a weekly song review of American Standards via Google Meeting. Prior to the set date, someone in the group picks a song from the Great American Songbook and his dad emails us You Tube links to up to fifteen versions of the same song recorded by various artists. Before the meeting, we listen to and rate the different versions.
We convene on Saturday night, when each of us takes a turn reading aloud our picks starting at number fifteen and working our way up. While the main focus is rating the songs, there’s also squealing with delight when someone else gives the same ranking you did, or recoiling with “Really? What did you like about that version?” and, of course, catching up on the week’s events. With a time-certain of one hour, the catching up is kept short but sweet. Note: We discovered Zoom is only free for the first 45 minutes so we recently switched to Google Meeting which doesn’t cost a thing.
4. Add a comforting ritual to your day: After binge-watching The Crown, The Royal House of Windsor, and The Great British Baking show (a show that’s both comforting and uplifting if there ever was one–watching it has become my happy place), I’ve rediscovered my inner-Brit (my family is half British so the quest was quick). I grew up with the proper reverence for the principle that “a cup of tea cures everything,” but had strayed from the custom. I think “the cure” works, in part, because it forces you to take a break and sip something warm and comforting. Now I’m making green tea because my mom recently reminded me of all the health benefits of green tea ; (it also helps to make a cup of tea when what I really want to do is grab a cookie–this is my new weight-loss solution: drink lots of green tea!) But black tea has its benefits as well–I’d count the taste, with milk of course, as one of them.
5. Get moving: When you look at how much energy kids have and how they’re always pretty cheery, I sometimes wonder if it isn’t because they move so much more than we do as adults. So now, I’m moving more, too. Back in March, when I first started homeschooling Kai I devised a schedule that included a segment called Movement. It soon morphed into playing loud music and running laps through the house in a game of tag or “tagyou’reit!“ as Kai pronounces it as one long word.
There’s no denying the uplifting power of listening to great music and we all know exercise is good for us. After we combined the two into a game of tag, the exercise became fun, not a chore. No matter how sluggish I may feel when we get going , when the music starts and we begin running, I rev up, warm up (an added bonus during these chilly winter days), and, after a few rounds,the endorphins set in. We limit it to three songs (some of our favorites being: Sexy and I Know It,Moves Like Jagger, Move to Miami and Pump Up the Volume–essentially anything with a pounding beat). I exaggerate my arm motions, like I’m a power walker from the 80s, because that seems to work the waist more. I chase Kai or he chases me but sometimes I slow it down into a Tai Chi version of running with long, extended movements. It feels like it’s working a whole other group of muscles and is a great way to work up to a faster pace.
6.Give yourself a break: We place so much pressure on ourselves to constantly do so much and take in so much information while doing it which can result in feeling fried, frazzled and frustrated: the three Fs. (And they’ve shown no one’s really good at multi-tasking anyway.) Giving yourself permission to be still and just be, could be the reset you need to get back out there, stronger and better–especially if you can be mindful enough to avoid starting the rush-rush-hurry-hurry cycle all over again.
But I also mean make things easier on yourself. My mom bought me this jar opener because I’m always yelling at lids I can’t open, followed by thwacking them on the kitchen mat until they loosen. I can stay off the kitchen floor now (and cease the swearing!) because this simple thing I installed under our kitchen cabinet, where it’s hidden unless you’re looking for it, has removed the stress of opening jars from daily life and makes opening lids a new-found pleasure. It seems like a small thing, but it removed the stress of struggling with jars which, when added up, was a big thing.
7. Get lost in a book instead of the news: Some nights, instead of turning on the news (or The Great British Baking Show), it feels like the greatest treat to crawl into bed and read. If there’s ever a time to try to silence the din of what can feel like a very dystopian new world, I’d say it’s now. Having a book you can look forward to reading at the end of the day, can be like leading a clandestine other life. Covid-19 may curb our literal travels, but not our literary travels; we can go anywhere we want through the pages in a book.
The other day our local librarian recommended The Friend by Sigrid Nunez to my mom who read it and then recommended it to me. If you’re a dog lover and enjoy a bit of raw, irreverent writing, The Friend may be just the book you need to help escape the Covid-constraints of the real world. I was so engrossed in reading it, each day I’d look forward to the moment I could sink back into the story.
8.Clean your house: I know, ick, ugh, yuck. No one in his or her right mind really likes to clean, do they? But after it’s done, your house feels better and you feel better for having done it. I learned a big lesson last year when I sold my old car. I’d loved it, but it was getting up there in years and had the transmission problems to prove it. I put it up for sale, but before I did, I cleaned the heck out of it and suddenly it had my heart again. I have a hard enough time parting with cars, but when all the dust, dog dander and Cheerios crumbs were wiped away, she sparkled and looked almost new. I hugged her seats and told her I was sorry for selling her and, a year later, I still wonder if we parted too soon.
This is all to say it’s much easier to move on to a new car than to a new home, so try cleaning the one you have and see if some of the “romance” comes back. I know whenever I, begrudgingly as it may be, give our house a deep-clean, I feel happier about how it looks. The other day I realized it was time to trade out the paper whites around our house for something less winter-holiday. Thankfully, a good friend was kind enough to pick me up some white orchids at the farmer’s market. I lined a faux clam shell with plastic wrap, placed the orchids, added river rocks to hold the orchids in place, and added moss on top to camouflage the rocks. Suddenly I liked our living room so much more and all it took was cleaning off the coffee table and styling it.
10. Be thankful: Depending on what’s going on in your life, this one can be tricky. I’ve found when my mind starts to dip into the depths of darkness, I can usually yank it back on course by making a mental list of all the things I’m thankful for. When I get to around number five, the fog starts to lift and, thankfully, gratitude and happiness take its place. Research also shows there are health benefits to practicing the art of gratitude.
You made it to the end of the list! Hurray! I hope you’ll find solace in knowing if you’re struggling to stay happy, you’re not alone. We’re all trying to survive this storm and it’s so easy to get swept away. I hope some of these tips will help you find your footing and find happiness in 2021. If you feel like you cannot lift the fog of unhappiness, there are people available 24-hours a day to help at The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (800) 273-8255.
The other day someone I follow on Instagram posted a photo of her hand with the words “Get Stuff Done!” written on it. I think that certainly sums up the mood about now, doesn’t it? We’re all in super over-drive making a list, checking it twice and wringing our hands about those packages that may or may not arrive by December 25th.
So if you don’t have time for a craft this year, I get it. Really, I do. But if you happen to have an old book on hand, one that’s falling apart, that you were never that crazy about (despite the good reviews) in the first place, the one you were going to stick in your neighborhood’s lending library box to pawn off on someone else, this is the easiest, fastest last-minute Christmas craft I can imagine. But if you don’t have the time, you can bookmark this project for next year (yuk yuk).
Begin by removing thirty pages from your book. Note: by “pages” I mean “individual sheets”. For example, if you start at page 29, don’t just add 30 to 29 and then pull pages 29 to 59. Instead, count 30 individual sheets to remove which would give you, in this example, pages 29 to 118.
If you pull the pages ever so gently, you may be lucky enough to keep the spine intact. If this doesn’t work for you (it didn’t for me), you can run a bead of hot glue along the ripped edge of the pages to create a new sort of spine. Tip: while the line of glue is still hot, you can use a disposable plastic knife like a trowel to smooth the glue and further press it into the edges of the ripped pages to help hold them together. You can see my bead of glue running down the left side of the pages in the photo below.
Now fold the top corner of the first page halfway down, towards the spine.
Fold that fold in towards the spine as though you were going to make a paper airplane.
Take the edge where the folded paper extends beyond the bottom of the book and tuck it under.
Then press it flat so it’s flush with the bottom of your book. Now repeat this for all 30 pages. It should take 5 to 10 minutes depending on how many cups of coffee you’re guzzling to make it through your To Do List.
Before your very eyes the thirty pages will be magically transformed into the shape of a conical tree. Flush and flare the pages, set it upright and, ta da, you’ve made a paperback book Christmas tree in under ten minutes!
To create a topper, I hot-glued a tiny pine cone from our redwood tree on top. Fun fact: they’re one of the smallest pine cones from one of the largest species of pine trees. But a mini Christmas ornament, star, or jingle bell, would also work.
I placed a few paperback book Christmas trees in our living room, but they’d also make a nice homespun gift to set atop a wrapped present.
Speaking of homespun, dried orange slices might be the second easiest Christmas craft! Simply slice your oranges into 1/4″ thick slices, set them on a baking rack (baking racks work better, in this case, than cookie sheets because the perforations allow greater air flow, reducing the drying time, and prevent the slices from sticking). Pop them into a preheated oven set at 200 degrees Fahrenheit and start working on all the other things on your To Do list because they take forever (3 1 2/ hours in our case!) to dry–but during that time your house will have a lovely citrus scent.
Note: to store them, I place them in a Ziploc bag with a desiccant packet (one of those moisture-absorbing packets of silica you’ll often find tucked inside a something you’ve had shipped–they reduce moisture which can prevent the item from becoming moldy during transport overseas). Warning: Do NOT use a desiccant packet around anything you plan to ingest–this idea is only for slices that will be used solely for decorative purposes!
When they’re finished you can thread them with twine to turn them into ornaments (I added a bunch to our tree and when the sun shines through them they make me think of stained glass!), tie them to packages, line them around the inside of a glass hurricane and place a ivory colored pillar candle inside or….
decorate your dessert cart. Dessert cart?
I bought this rattan bar dessert cart online last week when 1) I saw it was rattan (I seem to have a fetish) and 2) I had the sudden fantasy of just after dinner, when all the plates are cleared, I roll this cart up to the table and say, “These are the desserts I’m offering tonight. Please take your pick.” I don’t know why this struck me as such a brilliant idea, but it did. I tried it after Sunday dinner and no one seemed as tickled as I was, but I was tickled enough for everyone (all four of us that is, as my mom was our socially-distanced dinner guest) and I stand behind my impulse buy. 🙂
Truly, there was something thrilling about rolling out a cart filled with desserts. And if the excitement ever wears off, we can always use it as it was intended and offer spirits instead of sweets.
There you have it–the easiest last minute Christmas craft, orange slices to decorate your tree, your packages, and your dessert cart–and a present you can gift yourself (a dessert cart) if you’re as rabid about rattan as I am!
Happy holidays from our family to yours! Yes, we succumbed and bought matching pajamas this year. I know it’s kind of obnoxious and we’re now “those” people, but they’re really comfy pajamas and, what the heck, it’s the holidays–or it better be or I should take those ridiculous antlers off my head!
Thanks for stopping by!
Now I won’t keep you second more so you can get back to your To Do list and “Get Things Done!”
Stay safe, be well, and here’s hoping your Christmas is merry and bright!
Our houses have been working overtime lately, so I think they all deserve a few gifts, don’t you? I’m assuming you nodded in agreement, but first I wanted to share this quote I recently came across.
It’s okay if you fall apart sometimes.
Tacos fall apart and we still love them.
Just in case you had a hard week and had to shove your figurative fillings back in when no one was looking.
You’re human and that’s what we do. We fall apart, scoop up our stuff and carry on. But while we’re carrying on, we might as well do it in style, right? So here are some items you may want to gift your kitchen as a big, “Thank you for working so hard!”
Ideally every kitchen is stocked with the heavy-hitters used in the actual preparation of food/drinks: a Vitamix blender, Cuisinart food processor, KitchenAid mixer, and Nespresso coffee and espresso maker. They are the well-made, work horses that make cooking easier and more efficient. But since each one alone is a bit of an investment, I’m going to focus on the items less likely to break-the-bank, yet still make your kitchen work better and look prettier!
A Citrus Zester When recipes called for citrus zest, this is your friend! It makes zesting so easy, I’d go so far as to say it’s fun to use. If you want a fancier version, it’s now offered with an olive wood handle that looks great, but since water and wood are generally foes, I’d stick to the one that can fall into a sink full of liquid and be forgotten about for a while without the fear of the wood splitting. And it makes an awfully cute stocking stuffer!
Dash Egg Cooker This egg cooker is what celebrity Chef Alton Brown would call “a unitasker” (a one-use appliance–which he says with the greatest disdain); however, it’s so good at its one use and is no more than 8″ across so I’ve made room for it in my life, and our pantry. When JB bought if for my birthday last year it almost seemed like a gag gift. “Why would I need such a thing? If I can make Martha Stewart’s recipe for Ile Flottante, I can certainly boil an egg!” But he reminded me that our son’s favorite breakfast is soft-boiled eggs and, for some reason, so many of the eggs I was soft-boiling were either too runny or too firm and thus repellent to our five-year-old and/or possibly still laden with the salmonella bacteria of an under-cooked egg.
I hate tossing food (even the unpalatable variety) so if this product offered perfectly cooked soft-boiled eggs every time–it can also make omelettes and hard-boiled eggs–the thought of which makes me summon some of Alton Brown’s disdain-–those thingsI can make without the the assistance of a gadget thankyouverymuch!–I was willing to try it. And now our soft-boiled eggs or “stick toast eggs”, as they’re called in our house, turn out just right every time.
Sponge Holder We all use sponges and even though there are some attractive ones on the market (sounds like I’m being overly kind, but see for yourself), I believe the sponge should be tucked away, out of sight. It’s my personal “No wire hangers!”
When I’m styling an in-use kitchen (as opposed to one in a new-build that’s never had any food grace its counters beyond the cookie platter at the real estate caravan), I like to use an OXO Rust-Proof Aluminum Suction Sponge Holder. The suction cups cling to the interior of the sink and you can place it on the side that’s closest to you if you’re standing at the sink so it’s out of view. Not only does it hide the sponge, but the holes in the bottom allow airflow and any excess water to drain avoiding the dreaded stinky sponge. It’s also aluminum and rust proof–and fits in a stocking!
Pretty soap dispensers These days we’re washing our hands so much, why not use pretty soap dispensers? While I love a good Savon soap, at almost $30 a pop it can feel like throwing money down the drain. Instead, I use an attractive dispenser I can refill with an equally safe, non-chemical soap (like this) for a lot less money.
A word about dish soap because, almost without exception, the bottles it comes in aren’t very appealing whenever I style a kitchen, I pour the dish soap into a more decorative dispenser and stash the original dish soap bottle in the cabinet below for handy refills. What’s great about these brown bottles is they’re labeled “hands” and “dishes” eliminating any confusion about which soap is which.
Soap dispenser tray I used to just plop pretty soap dispensers next to the sink and call it done, but realized in our own house that drips of water soon ran down the bottles and collected on the counter creating a yucky smelling puddle. Now I use a tray that collects the drips keeping them off the counter (this is especially helpful if you have natural stone or marble counters that will develop marks where moisture is absorbed). Note: the tray will still collect stagnant, soon-to-be-smelly, water and will need to be routinely cleaned. If rounded shapes aren’t your thing, here’s a rectangular option.
Decorative dish towels Every kitchen benefits from a decorative dishtowel, like a scarf that ties an outfit together, and I’m partial to ones with tassels.
I fold them in half and rest one next to the sink so you can dry your hands after washing them umpteen times throughout the day.
Or hang one from the handle on the stove. I love the graphic print of the one below (and being devoid of fringe they’re likely to hold up fairly well).
Flour sack dish towels But the reality is after too many washings the fringe on a tea towel can look a little frazzled so I keep these towels around for sopping up spills, wiping counters, and cleaning the food I’m making off my fingers–I even wad them up to use as potholders. I’ve come to terms that they’ll be stained after the first day I put them to use and I don’t care because they’re reasonably priced, slightly larger than most dish towels and highly absorbent. Note: they can be bleached; using a non-chlorine bleach will help them last longer.
Salt and pepper mills When I’m getting a kitchen ready for its closeup, I usually end up hiding items that don’t need to be out all the time and just leave the pretty ones. But knowing the reality is a kitchen has to not just look good, but function well, I’m always on the lookout for things that serve a dual purpose: utilitarian and good looking. These sculptural salt and pepper mills check both boxes!
Cloches Do you remember the buzz about how Khloe Kardashian arranged her Oreos? Really, it was a thing and once I saw how she did it I could never place cookies in a pile before closing the cloche without feeling a little bit brutish. Khloe’s super-civilized method is to create concentric rings, each slightly overlapping the other, producing a very structured display of baked goods. But if you prefer small stacks or even creating a mini mountain, that’s okay too, as long as you have something pretty, like this to display them in.
We have a similar one to the glass/marble one below and it just happens to be on sale!
Jean Dubost Laguiole knives Years ago I bought Jean Dubost Laguiole knives and they’ve been my go-to knives ever since. They’ve stayed sharp after daily slicing and dicing of carrots and cucumbers and the like. I bought mine at HomeGoods where they were not very expensive (like most things at HG!), and was happily pleased when after years of use they were still as great (and sharp!) as ever. So recently when I thought I’d give myself a present and splurge on some more Laguiole knives, I bought them from the reputable source Sur La Table imagining since they cost so much more than I’d paid for the HG version, they might be even better. Instead they were so awful, I immediately returned them but not without doing some research on what a “real” Laguiloe knife is so I’d never be swindled again.
Turns out any knives from Laguiole (a small village in France) can be stamped as such, as well as knives not from the region, making the stamp of “Laguiole” equate to a whole lot of nothing. Per Wikipedia, “‘Laguiole’ no longer refers to the French knife brand, but to a generic term that has become associated with a specific shape of a traditional knife common to this area.” When I looked more closely at mine I noticed they were also stamped “Jean Dubost” which does seem to mean something (the company has been making knives in France since 1920 and said knives can only be purchased directly Jean Dubost or one of the exclusive sources that carry them). In summary, I think if you stick to the Laguiole knives bearing “Jean Dubost” you should be buying the good ones–but make sure there’s a great return policy before hitting “Add to cart” knowing you’re either about to get the best knives of your life–or crappy imposters.
Wooden cutting boards For the past few years wooden cutting boards have been popping up all over Pinterest, and the like, in photos of kitchens we all wished we had. Funny how something we used to scratch our heads about how to stash away (in a spot that still let them dry properly after washing–which was always a conundrum) is now set out as a point of pride: Look how used mine looksbecause I cookthatmuch!
Being on the edge of the cutting board trend, I purchased the one below because I already had a more expensive one and wanted one dedicated solely to stinky stuff (garlic, onions, leeks) and keep the other for things I didn’t want to have a savory scent: fresh fruit, anything sweet, baked goods, etc.. I’ve used it for about six months and it has held up well and now it rests on my counter, scratched from use, in all its cutting board glory.
Wooden trivets I found something similar to these a few years ago at a yard sale and now I set it out almost every time I serve dinner. Ours is about the size of the small one on top and it functions not only as a trivet (to protect the finish of our dining table from heat/steam) but nicely elevates whatever dish I’ve placed on it making it look just a little more distinguished.
Attractive fruit basket/bowl I don’t own this exact basket (although my addiction to wicker makes me want to) but it’s another one of those items that falls into the category of “Since you’re going to put your fruits/veggies in something, why not make it an attractive something?” In our house we have such an overflow of fruits/veggies that I put the fruits in a dough bowl and the root vegetables and smellier things (garlic, onions, shallots) in a basket. In this way I can separate them so they don’t commingle and mix savory and sweet scents and it’s also an excuse to have two pretty vessels out because…well, sometimes two pretty things are better than one!
Wooden salt cellarwith spoon Almost every recipe I read recommends Diamond Crystal’s Pure and Natural Kosher Salt so I finally succumbed and shelled out the $10 for a box on Amazon. I do think it’s a good salt and it’s supposed to keep your measurements more precise (if the recipe is created using this salt and you use, say table salt, you’re likely using too much salt); however, the box is a big and not something I want to stare at but it is handy to have your salt within arm’s reach while cooking. Enter: the wooden salt cellar. I still get a kick out of sliding the attached lid to the side to reveal the contents even if I know what I’ll find in there (expensive salt). And, it looks cute on the counter. This one even comes with a spoon.
A plant in a cute pot In my opinion, each kitchen (heck, every room in the house!) benefits both in looks and air-cleaning properties from a live plant. Cute containers like this one are small enough to live on the windowsill or kitchen counter and large enough to house a small indoor plant such as a fern or small orchid.
Now that you know how to stock your kitchen in style, here’s something you may want to make in it. I was looking for a recipe for cinnamon rolls that was as easy as it was delicious and found Ina Garten’s Easy Sticky Buns. They’re made using store-bought puff pastry which means most of the hard work is already done for you. The rest is just sprinkling, rolling, baking and eating to your heart’s content. And your heart, or at least your taste-buds, will be so contended!
Not only were they delicious straight out of the oven while still ooey gooey, but the next morning they were still great, but in a different way, more like a rugelach. NOTE: I substituted walnuts for pecans and that worked just fine, but we (three adult cinnamon roll connoisseurs, I might add) all decided they’d be even better if, next time, I doubled the cinnamon.
Miso Soup The other day I was mentioning to a foodie friend that in order to avoid gaining 500 pounds from all this holiday baking (and eating), every few days I’ll make miso soup for a meal. It’s warm and comforting and delicious, yet low-calorie which is good for the ol’ waistline. One tub of red miso seems to last forever–I’ve made this soup probably fifteen times now and the container is still half-full.
Recipe: I use a tablespoon of miso per cup of water, tear up some dried seaweed (I buy the individual snack packs which are so small in size I can consume that amount of seaweed before it goes stale), slice up some scallions and heat it to boiling. Of course you can add tofu to make it a bit more like what you’d order at a sushi restaurant, but I find I can’t seem to finish a tub of tofu before it goes bad, so I skip the tofu and find I’m not missing much-except the extra calories!
Lastly, I went for a walk the other day and saw these pine boughs, red berries and pine cones and thought “Now how could I use those?” I remembered I had a dough bowl and a whole lot of battery-operated LED candles on-hand and whipped up this centerpiece for the coffee table. I set the candles to timer-mode so just as the sun goes down, they turn on and add a soft, cozy glow.
I hope some of these ideas will inspire you and here’s hoping you’ll have a week full of light and love…and that all your “cheese and lettuce” stays in place! But if it doesn’t, just scoop it back in and no one will be the wiser. 🙂
I like to look at the calendar in the first few pages of Martha Stewart Living Magazine. Presumably it’s Martha’s calendar as the headline reads “Martha’s December”. In this month’s issue you’ll find gentle reminders like “Force paperwhites indoors” (that happens on the 4th), “Begin winter pruning” (on the 15th), and “Go for a hike with the dogs” (the 19th).
It’s all well and good and even comforting, “Oh yes, I do need to force my paperwhites, don’t I?”
Until I read on.
When I get to “Fertilize orchids in the greenhouse” (on the 11th), I start to feel a bit inadequate. It must be quite nice to have a greenhouse. And even better to find the time to fertilize your orchids. My single specimen lost its blooms years ago and if it wasn’t perched on the sill of our kitchen window, a location that serves as a constant reminder to “feed” it the occasional ice cube, it would likely land itself in the green waste.
Then there’s “Begin winter pruning” (the 15th of December). My gawd she’s on top of it, isn’t she?
“Bake and assemble birch de Noel” (the 23rd)…now I think she’s just showing off.
When I get to “Make a batch of dog food” (December 28th), I wither and turn the page in despair.
Well, we can’t all be Martha, can we? But we can do what wecan. So here’s what we’ve been up to over here since last I checked in.
Of course Thanksgiving happened. I hope your gathering was a great one, no matter how big or small. We had a party of four (my mom joined the three of us) and that felt just right. Here’s our table setting. That’s a sprig of rosemary tucked into the twine “napkin ring” and velvet pumpkins you can read about making here or brass tack pumpkins here.
After all the cooking, cleaning, and decorating, I was thankful for leftovers to last for days because I figured that was about how long it would take me to want to cook again.
But by the next morning I’d recovered enough to make these donuts. They’re the only donut recipe I’ve found that produces a quick (no need for yeast or rising time) and consistently good (not overly oily, tough, or dry like some of the others) scrumptious donut every time. I can’t find a link to the recipe online so I’ll jot it down here.
Lemon Ricotta Donuts (makes approximately 2 dozen)
1 1/4 c all-purpose flour
2 t baking powder
1/4 c granulated sugar
1 T freshly grated lemon zest
1 c ricotta cheese
1 t vanilla extract
Vegetable oil for frying and powdered sugar for dusting
Sift the flour and baking powder. Stir in the sugar, zest, eggs, ricotta, and vanilla, mixing just enough to combine (do not over mix!). Heat oil to 350 degrees and fry the donuts turning once until both sides are golden. Use a slotted spoon to remove from oil and let rest on a paper towel to drain off excess oil. Sprinkle immediately with powdered sugar. Eat, smile, repeat. 🙂
After the feast of Thanksgiving, topped off by a few too many donuts, I decided we needed to cleanse our palettes by eating nothing but soup. I declared this past week The Week of Soup! We started with this recipe for Thai Tomato Basil Soup except I substituted a 28 oz. can of crushed tomatoes for the tomatoes and added one tablespoon of fish sauce and the juice of one lime to make it even more Thai-tasting.
But first I took advantage of the amazing Black Friday sales and bought myself what I consider “a big girl” cooking pot: a Staub Cocotte. I was torn between a Le Creuset and a Staub, but did some research and after reading this article, I was sold on Staub and when it was on sale for $99 (instead of $415) I hit “Order”!
It arrived tied with a bow: very fancy, indeed! But, besides being made in France, being purported to be the kind of pot you hand down to your progeny and it being glistening and white like a fresh snowflake (it does come in quite a few other colors, but in the same way I think you can’t go wrong with all-white dishes, I thought white was the most classic looking), it does seem to do all the cooking-related things it’s supposed to do: heat evenly, heat quickly, hold in moisture (when the lid is on), and it cleans up like a dream!
This recipe for Greens, Orzo and Meatball Soup was another winner, but I felt it only sprinted to the finish line once I added 2 to 3 Tablespoons of Better Than Bouillon (before that it didn’t taste properly seasoned to our taste-buds).
Back to those sales, a few posts ago I showed you the snow leopard version of these house slippers. Since they were only $20 I “splurged” and bought the brown suede version and have been wearing them most mornings (and some afternoons, and some evenings) ever since! They are that cozy!
Moving on to decorating…I was determined to hold off on decorating for Christmas until after Thanksgiving so the Day-of-Thanks could have its own identity, but the day after…all bets were off! I started with the dining table.
Side note: there was an earlier incarnation of our Christmas tablescape, but my mom said it reminded her of the Addams Family (too many faux birds and dark twigs) so I switched it to fresh (eucalyptus) greenery, cute animal decorations and conical trees to lighten things up. #motherknowsbest
I purchased the conical trees that are covered in layers of feathers (I can’t seem to let go of an avian theme!) but made the bark ones a few years ago by gluing pieces of eucalyptus bark onto a cone made from card stock. They’re not only easy to make, but they cost almost nothing since you can use what you have lying around–I foraged the eucalyptus bark from pieces I found on the ground in our neighborhood.
If you want to try making the trees, here’s a closeup and a link to the how-to-post. Note: I took this photo the first year we moved in when the carpet and walls were still Band-Aid beige and we hadn’t yet remodeled our fireplace with a stucco finish.
You’ll have to squint to see it, but I decorated the Christmas tree loosely* in the theme of a partridge-in-a-pear-tree.
*”Loosely” because while there are gilded pear ornaments and lots of random faux birds (there I go with that motif again!) no partridges, per se, are represented.
There is, however, this rather large bird topper. Kai still keeps asking why it can’t be a star like he sees on the Christmas trees on TV. How do I explain that while gold mini disco balls fit into the theme a star topper just didn’t?
I built up a bit of an obsession about buying this Christmas tree collar from Target which unfortunately cannot be shipped and must be purchased in-person. Just when I was trying to work up the courage (Insanity? New Covid cases have spiked to 98 per day here in Santa Barbara) to head to our local Target–I considered going after dinner when surely all the sane people were hunkered down at home out of the cold and away from the virus–the last one at our local store must’ve sold because when I checked online they were no longer available at that Target that’s only fifteen minutes away, only at the one thirty minutes away. Sigh.
Of course now I’ve decided it’s the best Christmas tree collar I’ve ever seen and that it would have looked so good with the abundance of rattan/wicker/bamboo in our living room–if there’s such a thing of too much rattan/wicker/bamboo, I eschew it!–and it was about half the price of any of the competitors’ (that are, in my mind, only half as attractive). Grr.
But I was able to get the other best-deal-in-town: paperwhites at Trader Joe’s. (Martha would be so proud…I’m forcing paperwhites right on schedule!) At $2.99 each, a dollar up from last year–guess that’s inflation for you, they’re still such a steal!
I placed one next to my side of the bed.
And the rest are placed here, there, and everywhere!
Here’s the big picture.
And a peek at the dining table while it was still a bit too Addams Family-esque. 🙂
Switching gears here..and speaking of transitions, am I the only one keeping pumpkins long after it’s holiday-appropriate? I know pumpkins are soooo last month, but while they’re still so pretty, I can’t bear to cut them open (so I can access their seeds and plant new ones next year) and certainly not toss them in the trash. So, for now, it’s Christmas/winter on the inside of our house and fall on the outside. So be it. Long live the pumpkins!
Which leads me to we’ve been whipping through Season 4 of the The Crown so quickly, I wanted to pump the brakes a bit so we switched over to TheRoyal House of Winsdor, also on Netflix, and are now completely enthralled by it. If you’re already enjoying The Crown, but want something supplemental (you can watch both concurrently), I think you’ll find its historical reporting and archival footage and news clips fascinating. Just the image below says so much, doesn’t it?
But if that’s not your cup of tea (attempt at British humor, yuk yuk), if you’re at all into gardening, I’d recommend The Gardener on Prime. It documents the illustrious gardener Frank Cabot, as he discusses the methodology of his garden masterpiece: Les Quatre Vents. He talks about beautiful environs elevating our mood and the importance of protecting the historical gardens. The shots were languid–the antidote to the few-seconds per frame we’re often assaulted with–the music swelling and orchestral, and the message was one I subscribe to: art, including the art of Mother Nature cultivated to look her best, lifts our spirits and moves us and leaves us better for having seen it. Because beautiful environs lift our spirits, we need to value them. Amen!
But when I tipped my meringue out of the Bundt pan and onto the plate, the meringue broke into multiple pieces and what came to mind was that stomach-sinking-sentiment “Pinterest Fail!” It wasn’t Pin-worthy or Instagram-worthy; I’m only showing it here on my blog to make a point and, even at that, I’m not showing the top which was broken beyond repair.
However, it was delicious! Once it was plated in a pool of Creme Anglaise and drizzled with more caramel sauce, you’d never know it was anything other than perfect. We had it for dessert after Sunday dinner and all decided it was one of our new favorites.
The message being, at some point, we all break the meringue–likely even Martha does. And that’s what makes us the lovable humans we are! Trying to survive a pandemic has certainly tested all of us and I know stress levels are high. Here’s to wishing you success in your week whether what you do turns out perfectly the first time or you end up finessing it to look as though it did. Either way, perfection isn’t really the goal; but putting one foot in front of the other and doing as best we can is.
Coronavirus cases spiked across the globe, California went back to being on a purple tier, and, closer to home, we lost a good friend.
He was kind and steady. He could fix most IT problems (he once saved my computer and the 300-page novel I was working on when I thought it was wiped). He grew an enviable garden full of species native to Santa Barbara; if you didn’t recognize a plant you could bring it to him and he’d name it and tell you how to keep it alive. He was known to grumble a bit, but in an endearing way. He was the first of our group to marry and, many anniversaries later, he and his wife inspired us all by still using pet names and seeming as smitten as ever. He turned 52 a few weeks ago and died, unexpectedly, last week. His name was Geoff Jewel.
At first the news was shocking, then disbelief turned to sadness. It clung to everything and hung in the air like a gloomy mist. The short, dark days weren’t helping. I’d vacillate between trying to cheer myself up and feeling guilty for trying to shake the sadness because I know his wife won’t be able to, at least not for a very long time.
Geoff stopped by our house a couple of weeks ago to drop off two giant cycads from his collection to thank me for some design help. Since we are mostly home these days, it was strange we were out, but we were. Now we’ll never see him again and the cycads have taken on a sentimental status. I’m determined to keep them thriving.
I imagine so many of us are going through something similar. There have been too many deaths from this pandemic to come through entirely untouched. Or if you have come through untouched, I think all it takes is turning on the news and hearing the latest numbers to feel overwhelmed with empathy. And you want to help, but you don’t know how and intellectually you recognize feeling sad isn’t really helping anybody.
So what do we do with all this sadness? Is it okay to file it away, tilt our chins upward and trudge along like everything is fine? Is it okay to want to be happy when so many people are suffering?
I finally decided it was. I wasn’t helping anybody being stuck in a funk. So I decided to choose happiness.
What started to lift the muck of melancholy, was to make things prettier around our house. Decorating didn’t feel so trivial anymore. (I strongly believe beautiful environments elevate our mood–I think that’s why I do what I do for a living).
This mat arrived and inspired me to freshen up our front door. I’ve used it on three different houses over the years and decided it was time to buy it for ours. I love it and it’s a great price ($12.99!) but, truth be told, at 30″ x 18″, it’s barely wide enough for our 32″ wide front door.
Design tip: In general, you want your doormat to be at least as wide as your front door, if not slightly wider. Since most doors are also flanked with a few inches of casing on both sides, your impression of the width of the door is wider than just the literal width of the door itself. So when calculating what size to buy, I’d say err on the side of wider than the door. So, yes, it could be wider, but I love the pattern so much I’m forcing it to work and what helped was sliding it out from the front door a few inches making it less obvious that it wasn’t as wide as the door.
The leopard doormat below is equally cute, albeit a bit pricier, but does come in a larger size option. It would work so well with my shoes. 🙂
I’ve used this braided rubber one on a couple of projects and it’s so neutral it looks good year-round. Since it doesn’t try to steal the show, you can dress up everything around it (sometimes a doormat is just a doormat, right Freud?).
But this next one had me at “jute”. Of course it’s only going to work for “sheltered outdoor use”, per its online description, but it’s classic and good and adds just the right touch of natural, organic materials which I’m always drawn to.
I hung this preserved boxwood wreath from Target which we’ve had for almost seven years now and it’s still going strong. I love that it’s real boxwood but since it’s preserved it keeps on lasting and lasting. A real green option! Get it? 🙂
It’s so neutral, in fact, I’m going to transition it into all-things-Christmas the day after Thanksgiving. I used it on this house last year.
The new wreath along with a lantern and new doormat gave an instant refresh.
Here’s a faux berry wreath that has some definite holiday spirit. My mom has a similar one she hangs on her front door for the holidays. Her front door is painted a very dark charcoal so the wreath looks amazing in contrast.
During these politically-charged times, this battery-operated lighted peace sign wreath certainly sends a nice message.
A lantern by the front door is not only pretty, but adds a welcoming touch. I use battery-operated LED candles set to timer-mode in ours so they automatically turn on at dusk like magic. The lanterns below from Pottery Barn are similar to the ones I placed by our front door although I bought ours years ago at Osh of all places.
I’ve had my eye on these below from Pottery Barn for our back door. Here’s a less expensive version from Target.
A planter or two, or three, by your front door not only softens the the scene, but is a good transitional piece from the outside in.
These ones one would work with most home styles from traditional to modern.
And the glaze on these next ones is so good. I recently saw something similar at the home of renowned Santa Barbara landscape designer. I can imagine them filled with ferns or succulents (climate permitting; succulents are usually sun-loving, but the aeoniums by our front door have tolerated the shade surprisingly well).
These lit twig orbs are similar to ours and would add a warm, welcoming glow at night.
And there you have it. I hope these ideas sparked some design inspiration. It’s easy to feel like letting it all go with thoughts of “What’s the point? Why do we try?” But I think we do need to keep trying. So chins up and off we go, trudging into another week. But let’s do so with a mindset of proactively choosing happiness and being thankful, shall we? I know it’s easier said than done. Perhaps check out this article which gives some good tips about cultivating joy.
Wishing you a very, very happy Thanksgiving next week!
After the week that felt like a thousand years, this one was a little easier.
By Saturday, the jubilance was palpable. Friends said they awoke to the sound of horns honking. You could turn on any news station (even that news station) and see throngs of people shimmying through the streets, the joy visibly apparent in every triumphant thwack of their conga drums. We even headed out, a rare occurrence since Covid-19, for donuts–what better way to celebrate than with something sweet?
There was a frisson of something radical happening. It felt a bit like a 1960s-throwback. It felt like good had triumphed over evil. It felt like we could finally exhale.
Then there was the hiccup come Monday, Tuesday, and so on when we realized political gridlock was grinding any progress to a halt. And that’s when I realized it was time to start making these pumpkins.
Sometimes you just need a craft that is as cathartic as it is easy. And I’ll tell you, mindlessly poking a brass tack into the body of a faux pumpkin felt both therapeutic and remarkably relaxing.
Now’s also the perfect time to purchase faux pumpkins because even though we’re yet halfway through November, according to the music being played in the donut store, it’s also Christmas time, which means faux pumpkins are on super-sale.
I’ve found packages of 300 brass tacks (you’ll need about three of these packs per a pumpkin that is approximately the size of your hand) available year-round for $1 each at The Dollar Tree, but they’re also available at any office supply store.
As you can see, these pumpkins are fairly elemental to make, but here are some tips to ensure your success.
Start at the bottom with a single row, then work your way to the top (where the faux stem is).
Once you’ve finished the first row, begin the next row at the bottom making sure to slightly overlap the first row with the second row, creating a scale effect.
Continue in this fashion until you have completed one segment.
This craft is so mindless you can chat while you work, play a favorite song, listen to a podcast–or even take your chances and turn on the news!
Keep going until you’ve finished all the segments, working from left to right. Before you know it, (I found it took about an hour to complete one), you’ll be down to the last segment. Begin and end the last segment just as you did the first.
When you get to the end of your therapy craft, chances are you’ll be feeling really good!
And now you’ll have all these pretty brass pumpkins to place throughout your house in preparation for possibly no one coming over to see them. But you’ll see them, and you were able to relieve some of that pent-up tension by poking and poking and poking again at that pumpkin–and that is what really matters.
Plus, unlike real pumpkins, you’ll still have them next year when, we can hope, your only stress will be the full house you’re hosting for the holidays. 🙂
I used ours to decorate our fall tablescape, along with the velvet pumpkins I made in previous years. Velvet pumpkins are another quick and easy craft. If you want to read my post-from-the-past on how to make them, click here.
The pumpkins on the far right are made with a new package of tacks and you can see they’re bright and shiny, but they will darken as they age. If you want to keep them looking bright for a bit longer, spray them with a clear coat of satin spray paint.
This was the setting for last week’s Sunday night dinner when my mom came over for our weekly socially-distanced soiree (if four people can count as a soiree). These plates from Anthropologie are no longer available, but here’s a plastic version of some that are equally charming.
We had these same Lumina pumpkins displayed on our dining table for our not-so-spooky Halloween and I turned the largest one into a succulent pumpkin centerpiece for our new look which is it’s-almost-Thanksgiving. If you’d like to make your own, you can read my how-to post here.
Because the days are growing shorter, I put the succulent pumpkin outside during the day and bring it in at dinnertime to serve as our centerpiece.
What’s so wonderful about these living centerpieces is not only do you save a bundle on buying (or these days…ordering) fresh flowers every week, but when it’s time to transition into all-things-Christmas, you can plop the pumpkin in the ground and the succulents will continue to grow using the decomposing pumpkin as fertilizer–and, come spring, you’re likely to sprout some pumpkins.
Now the table’s decorated. What to serve?
I have a pet peeve about investing time and expensive ingredients on a new recipe only to be utterly disappointed. I don’t just let it go. Instead I’ll have to take a few deliberately deep breaths, consciously keep myself from remarking about it throughout the entire lackluster meal except for the occasional, “It sounded so good when I read it!” and even when the plates have long been cleared, I’ll wish I had a pumpkin to stab. And I’ve felt this way after making many a tempura recipe.
They all promised a light and airy batter, but none tasted like the tempura I’d order off a Japanese menu–until this one by Tyler Florence. It was so good, instead of lamenting anything, I kept saying, “This tastes like it came from a restaurant!” (my hallmark of good food), and, “If it did, I’d order it again!” (the highest honor I hand out 😉 ).
Not only is the batter light, crispy, salt-and-peppery, and delectable down to the last bite, but the added bonus is the part you make just at the end after you’ve done all that frying and cleared away most of the oil. You add freshly grated ginger, chopped garlic, and sliced scallions to the oil and fry them for a minute until they are crisp, then dump them on top of your plated tempura. If you can’t get to a Japanese restaurant any time soon to order tempura, you might not mind so much once you’ve made this recipe.
Hot tip: To give you an indication of how much this recipe makes, I made a quarter of what the recipe called for (thankfully it was easily divisible) and even though there are only two of us who eat tempura over here (our almost-five-year old shuns such things) we still had leftovers the next day. Also, I used some of the batter for 1/4″ slices of zucchini and 1/2″ slices of onion and thought the veggies made a nice addition. But most importantly, when it calls for chilled soda water, make sure IT’S A FRESH BOTTLE! The fizz of an opened bottle fades by the next day and the batter won’t be as light without that first-day carbonation.
And another tip: After we realized we were wasting large bottles of club soda that were not-so-sparkling a few days after opening, we started keeping the mini-sized bottles of Schweppes, which are the perfect size for most food and drink recipes, on hand.
If you’re fried after frying and don’t want to spend much time on dessert, you may want to try this recipe for Pots de Creme. The key is using good quality chocolate as it’s one of the three ingredients. I found this recipe off the bag of Guittard (a good chocolate) Milk Chocolate Chips.
2 c Guittard Milk Chocolate Chips
3/4 c whole milk
1/4 c butter
Place chips in a blender. Heat the butter and milk over low heat until the mixture just begins to boil. Immediately pour the hot liquid into the blender container. Cover and blend at high speed until smooth, about a minute. Pour into dessert dishes and chill until set.
Please note: the recipe actually called for three hours of chilling time which I changed to “until set”, because I made these the other night and popped them into the fridge just before dinner and by the time we were finished (an hour later, at most) they were perfectly set.
PS: I also added a dollop of whipped cream on top to add some lightness to the heaviness of the chocolate creme. For a fall-flavor sensation, use a whisk or mixer with a whisk attachment to whip 1 cup heavy cream and 2 T sugar. When almost-stiff peaks are formed (be careful not to over beat or the mixture will curdle), add 2 T Frangelico hazelnut liquor. Try it and your taste buds will thank you! If you don’t have Frangelico on hand, dark rum also works.
There you have it, a craft to calm you and two recipes to nourish you!
Here’s to having a happy, easy week next week–the kind that makes you want to beat a drum and shimmy in the streets! 🙂
I started three new projects this week and was on-track to redesign a bathroom, figure out how to turn a so-so office into one that was stylish and ready for its Zoom-closeup, and turn a commercial space from “Ick!” to chic.
And then Election Day and the following days of “What the heck?!” happened: time stood still (I imagined our clocks dripping a la a Dali painting), my focus turned from looking at tile to toggling between various news channels, and I began cramming handfuls of our son’s Halloween candy into my mouth as a coping mechanism–I imagine it will make an unwanted appearance on my waistline next week.
But I couldn’t help it. As I explained to friends, family and clients in the rapid-fire texts we’d send one another signaling support during this time of crisis when morality itself seemed moribund, waiting for the results of the election felt like waiting for a loved one to come out of surgery. Until I knew He was going to make it, my entire focus fell by the wayside.
The one thing that has helped was knowing we are in this together. We’re not alone. More people than not collectively care. So just in case you were also feeling the opposite of calm, I thought I’d suggest some happy, soothing things. A figurative flashlight, if you will, to help us as we make our way out of the woods.
Not to promote drinking….but, you might want to try this cocktail. I give my mom credit for coming up with the basics when one night she asked aloud “I wonder if ginger kombucha and Maker’s Mark would taste good together?” It turns out they did. I added to it until I turned it into my new favorite cocktail. It’s not too sweet, the freshly grated ginger adds a refreshing bite, and the element of kombucha can kind of make you feel like you’re imbibing something healthy. Kind of.
Ginger Kombucha Cocktail
Servings: Makes one strong cocktail--you're welcome!
Cheers! You should start to feel better in about fifteen minutes or fewer. 🙂
Go outside! I know it sounds like a no-brainer, but sometimes we all need a reminder to get some fresh air. Did you know the air outdoors is often 2 to 5 times cleaner than the air which we sit inside inhaling…and exhaling…and inhaling? Not only is the air outside often cleaner, but a little sunlight can do a lot of good as we enter these shorter days because exposure to sunlight can release a much-needed dose of serotonin. As you probably know, serotonin keeps us calm and focused and without enough exposure to sunlight, our natural levels can dip. Nail-biting elections have also been known to drop levels of serotonin off a cliff.
I don’t think anyone needs encouragement to eat more–at least, I don’t; eating is my happy place when the state of things seems to spiral out of control–but eating good, healthy meals, is a wise idea to keep your wits about you. Even the act of cooking can be comforting. Recently I’ve found following a new recipe to be a welcome distraction. This one for Company Pot Roast was well worth the effort (and, be forewarned, there is some effort, but also a great payoff when you taste how comforting and yummy this dish is)!
ButI do suggest this: this recipe makes a lot of sauce and as you’re likely to run out of meat before you run out of sauce (there is sauce for days–literally, you’ll have leftovers for days!) we found ourselves making plates of sauce, piling on sliced Swiss cheese (Gruyere also works) and microwaving the dish until the sauce was heated and the cheese was melted. It tasted like a heartier, more vegetable-filled version of French Onion soup.
And another tip: I plated the dish over egg noddles to sop up some of the sauce and garnished the meal with Italian parsley, otherwise, I thought it seemed too blah looking.
Okay, so maybe you’re too stressed to follow such a long recipe. Before I tasted it and knew it was a success, I almost texted my foodie friend to say, “This better work or I want the last hour and a half back!”–there is quite a lot of slicing and searing and chopping before you even get to the part where you stick the roast in the oven–to cook for 2 1/2 hours!– so do plan ahead!
In that case, here’s another recipe, courtesy of Ina Garten, which I made Election Night knowing I’d want be glued to the television, not the cutting board. She describes it in her cookbook as the meal she’ll prepare when she’s in a hurry, and she was right. It’s simple and quick to prepare, but delicious and comforting to consume.
Tip: See that tiny green thing midway up the chicken breast? That was what happens to the basil leaf the recipe recommends you stick under the chicken skin. Because like most cooked green things, basil leaves have an incredible ability to shrink, I’d suggest adding four or five basil leaves (instead of the recommended one) under the skin of each breast to add more flavor–and color! After all, this is called Chicken with Goat Cheese and Basil not Chicken with Goat Cheese and A Tiny Speck of Something Green Which May or May Not Be Detectable As Basil. But that’s just my opinion.
While we’re on the subject of cooking, here is a wonderfully cheery clip of everyone’s favorite (or at least their top five) cooks: Julia Child. Watch this and I bet you’ll feel your blood pressure drop almost immediately. Okay, while you’re at it, watch this one, too.
After all that time standing and stirring, your feet might need a rest. I ordered these house slippers from Target a couple of weeks ago and have been slipping them on every morning ever since. They’re cozy, come in other colors , they’re real suede, and…wait for it…they’re only $20!
I don’t know about you, but I always feel better after I clean the house–not during, but after. Once the dust has literally cleared, I move things around. A new arrangement gives me a new perspective and I certainly needed that this week. And since we just wrapped up on all-things-Halloween, it seemed the perfect time to transition our house into all-things-Fall.
I wiped away all the spooky, and added a plethora of pumpkins.
And a couple of faux pheasants. And a table runner. Here is a similar one that is pretty and a pretty great price.
Then I followed my own advice from last week’s post and added a gazillion lanterns and battery-operated LED candles around the house, set them to timer mode, and now every day at 5:00 pm, just as the shadows start to creep in, they’re kept at bay by the cozy glow of candlelight. I wish you could see it aglow at night. It’s so pretty!
Admittedly, I couldn’t tear myself away from the news this week, but it did occur to me I should switch the channel and watch something so engrossing I’d forget our country’s democracy was in danger. The thing was, I didn’t know what to watch (what would be as compelling as watching our country almost go to hell in a hand basket?) because I had already watched the most engrossing, captivating, enchanting show ever, Gran Hotel, on Netflix. It’s set in 1907 Spain, has Spanish subtitles, swelling orchestral music, a plot that will keep you guessing til the end (it’s a who-dunnit) and the most beautiful sets and actors you can imagine. I’ve told so many people about this show and so far they’ve all gotten hooked.
My mom and I watched it at our respective houses, would call each and instead of saying “How are you?” say “Can you believe s/he did that?” and we dreaded it coming to a close. When it did end, we were in withdrawals for a brief period during which time I filled the void by following most of the main characters (well the actors who played them, although I like to believe they’re still the characters) on Instagram just to keep them in my life. I know I sound like a crazy person. That is how good this show is: it’s crazy-making!
If drinking, breathing fresh air, wearing comfy house slippers, cooking, cleaning your house, and binge-watching television fails to calm you down, there’s always chocolate cake. I found this recipe for Chocolate Cake in a book a client/friend/dear person lent me, The Sweet Life In Paris, by David Lebovitz which is also a very good read and makes you think you might not be missing much by not being able to travel to France right now (he makes a case for Parisians not being the politest of people).
Before sharing the recipe, he explains every Frenchwoman he knows has a go-to chocolate cake recipe that she’s committed to memory, that can be made on a moment’s notice. And if there was ever a week that called for chocolate cake to be consumed in big, hulking wedges, drowned down with a cold glass of milk (or maybe a Kombucha Ginger Cocktail), I think this was it.
Here’s to next week being much better, to staying calm, staying kind, and counting all the votes!
These lanterns are not only pretty, but easy to make with what you have on hand!
I’ve been homeschooling Kai since mid-March when his preschool ushered us out the door at the end of the week announcing they’d be closed come Monday until further notice. They were full of kind words and well-wishes, but without any answers.
I remember it was Friday the 13th which compounded the sense of foreboding. They shrugged their shoulders and apologized for not knowing what would happen next. We didn’t blame them; no one knew. Sadly, we still don’t. The preschool did eventually reopen, with detailed explanations of new protocols, limited classroom sizes, and promises that they’d do everything in their power to make it safe–it just didn’t sound safe enough. So we never went back.
Now, like everyone else muddling through this new way of life, we take each day as it comes. After a period of what my husband, JB, delicately described as “floating”, I finally devised an itinerary Kai and I seem to be able to stick with which is good since I now realize there’s an integral connection between having a schedule and staying sane.
Snack time. (Note the glitter on the table. Sigh.)
We have hula hoop contests and dance-offs (Movement); we count the windows and doors in our house (Math); and we learn about a new animal each day (Biology). And we’re learning so much. For example, did you know if an octopus is restricted to an environment that doesn’t provide enough stimulation, it will begin to eat its own appendages? I can relate. I fear I may start biting my nails soon.
Of all the activities, Craft Time is the most fun. And here is one of our favorite crafts so far: DIY paper lanterns with pressed leaves and flowers. They’re pretty, darn easy to make, and, with perhaps the exception of balloons or inflatable balls which you may or may not have on-hand, they’re made from things you likely have lying around the house.
Really. Here’s all you need:
White copy paper and white tissue paper (or use toilet paper–assuming you’re well stocked by now and maybe even have a surplus)🙂
White glue (or use 1 cup of flour mixed with 1 cup of cold water)
Leaves and flowers picked from your garden (or see what you can scrounge up during a walk around the block)
Begin by fully inflating your balls or balloons to create the form for your globe. Tear white copy paper into 2″ wide strips (or use the aforementioned pieces of toilet paper; this method will increase the translucency.).
Dip your strips into the glue and press them around the ball/balloon until it’s covered in one layer of paper. Note: if you’re using a ball, make sure the valve is pointed upwards. Stop the strips just short of the top, then set your globe out to dry. Don’t worry about forming a neat opening as you’ll have a chance to clean it up later.
Gather your flora.
We picked a combination of fern leaves, ginkgo leaves and bougainvillea bracts.
Spread the flora on a sheet of wax paper in a single layer; place another sheet of wax paper on top then rest a heavy book upon the flora “sandwich”. In few days the flora will be dry enough to use.
Dab a bit of glue on your finger, or onto a paintbrush, to attach the flora to your paper globe. Once it’s positioned, layer a strip of white tissue paper (or toilet paper) over the flora. Spread a thin layer of glue over the tissue paper layer, smoothing it with your fingers, or paintbrush. Let dry.
Once your globe is completely dry, deflate the ball or puncture the balloon and cut a wide, circular opening at the top. Remove the ball or balloon.
If you plan to leave your globe lanterns outside for any period of time, first seal them with two coats of clear acrylic spray paint (letting them dry in between coats).
Now you’re ready to illuminate your lanterns. Because they’re made of paper and, thus, flammable, I’d suggest using battery-operated LED candles, such as these which can be set to timer mode. They’re coated in wax and have the most realistic wicks–far better than some of the other options out there, even better, in my opinion, than those sold at the store the begins with a P and rhymes with “Ottery Farm”.
Side note: “Timer mode” may just be one of the greatest inventions ever; each night your candles “magically” begin to glow at the same time like some little fairy swept through your house illuminating them–while you didn’t even have to lift a finger! And what’s cozier than candlelight–especially the flame-less variety which you can leave unattended knowing it will extinguish itself in five hours?
However, these lanterns are just as pretty during the day when not aglow.
You can use the same technique, (but with orange tissue paper for the final layer), to create a jack-o-lantern–perfect for the holiday that’s almost here!
I had planned to use an X-acto knife to cut out the eyes, nose and mouth on our jack-o-lantern, but liked the look the Sharpie created so I left it intact.
This version functions as a lantern or as a Halloween candy bowl! We’ve stuffed ours with mini candy bars and have been reaching into the jack-o-lantern far too often, ever since. 😉
Now you know how to illuminate your house, how about how to make it smell really good? Recently I read someone suggesting each house should have its own signature scent. It got me thinking: What’s ours? I’d imagine it’s a custom blend of dog fur and washed-when-it-fits-into-this-new-schedule-human-hair.
And surely we can do better! I know I want to try. In fact, I imagine we all want our homes to smell their best, especially now so many of us are grounded in them. Enter: 100% natural essential oils and a diffuser!
We purchased this diffuser by Victsung last winter when we were coughing and hacking at night due to the dry weather. Given the season of dryness has descended upon us, along with the plague, now seemed like a good time to bring out the diffusers (plus, they’re so cool and modern looking!). But instead of just using them in the bedrooms, I decided to keep one in the kitchen and drop in some essential oils to make our house smell less like, well, like us.
I wanted a scent that would smell somewhere between pumpkin pie and freshly baked oatmeal cookies, or maybe just like Fall. And I think I nailed it! The secrete formula? Two drops of cinnamon oil and two drops of nutmeg oil.
Used as an aromatic, cinnamon oil has been linked to easing depression and anxiety and aiding in sleep–all good things! While nutmeg oil helps support a sense of calm, induces relaxation–and conversely can alleviate fatigue and be a mood and energy booster. In other words, it’s an upper and downer all in one little vial.
Added bonus: Because the cinnamon oil is naturally antibacterial and anti-fungal, it makes an great alternative to yucky chemical cleaners. I added a few drops to a spray-bottle filled with water and now use it as a natural way to wipe the surfaces in our house.
I hope you’ll try making a lantern–or at least invest in some battery-operated LED candles to sprinkle throughout to give your home a cozy glow as we head into the darker days of Fall.
And if you think your house might just smell like you’ve been spending nearly every minute in it, now you have an essential oil formula that can make you feel as good as it smells!
It’s pomegranate season, we’re on our umpteenth heatwave here in Southern California, and the election is upon us. All of the above culminated to inspire the making of this cocktail!
I’ve listed the recipe below, but should tell you now if you’re going to squeeze fresh pomegranate juice (and you really should, it’s so good!) I strongly suggest you wear clothes you don’t care about as the juice, even using a citrus press, creates a bit of a “crime scene”. But it’s so tartly sweet and refreshing I think you’ll find it’s worth the extra bit of effort to press your own. Update: a friend/client/smart person just shared her tip to remove the seeds while they’re submerged in a bowl of water thus eliminating the “bloody” mess. Brilliant!
Pomegranate Cosmopolitan (makes 8 small martinis or 4 large ones–depending on the size of your martini glasses, 4 oz. or 8 oz., but do note any excess can be stored in a lidded jar, refrigerated, and used for up to one week.)
2 c vodka
1 c Cointreau
1 c pomegranate juice (Pom Wonderful, found in most grocery stores, or freshly pressed from 2 large pomegranates)
1/2 c fresh lime juice(from 2 large limes)
Combine and chill mix until ready to use. Serve in a frozen martini glass with a twist of lime (wind the lime peeling tightly on a straw–I like to use a metal, reusable one–to form the spiral). Pour what you don’t consume into a lidded jar and chill until the urge to blot out reality strikes again.
Since there are just two of us old enough to drink in this house, I soon discovered the brilliance of the make-ahead cocktail. Since we’d be two sheets to the wind if we consumed 4 to 8 martinis, we each imbibed one and I poured the remaining mix into a lidded jar (note: the lid is crucial to keep the scent of your refrigerator out of your cocktail).
The following evening, when the urge for a magical mixture to dull the sharp edges of surviving a pandemic strikes again, get out the ice (we don’t have an ice maker so I like to use these lidded ice cube trays for the same reason a lidded jar is a must). Fill your cocktail shaker with ice, stir the Cosmo mix, pour atop the ice, shake vigorously, then pour like a pro into your chilled martini glass–feel free to skip the lime spiral on a Monday. You might be feeling more ambitious by Tuesday. If you are, here’s a great zester to try.
This liquid is both friend (the flavor tastes like you just ingested something really good for you–and you did, it’s packed with Vitamin C and more! Read this and you might want some pomegranate juice pronto) and foe (be forewarned: it splatters and can stain any porous surfaces).
Just in case you need something to soak up all that “sauce”, you might want to make Pumpkin-Shaped-Pumpkin bread. (Recipe found here.) Now if you’re thinking, “Homemade bread? Yeah, right! It’s not like I’m stuck at home with all this time on my hands. Oh, wait…” this might be a great time to try your hand at bread-making, right?
Don’t be afraid of this recipe. It truly was a fairly easy one. I’m a totally novice bread maker and it still turned out perfectly pumpkin-esque. Of course, if you aren’t quite ready to take on the task of baking bread, the good new is you have all of fall to warm up to it. This shapely bread would be a stunner any time between now and Thanksgiving!
The big picture!
The trick to creating the pumpkin shape is to tie the dough with baker’s twine. You cut three pieces 24″ long, place them on your parchment paper or Silpat mat crossing over one another in a star (like this *) pattern; plop down the proofed ball of dough in the center of the star; bring the twine ends up the sides of the ball and loosely tie them at the top leaving an inch or so of slack; insert a cinnamon stick “stem”.
During the second round of rising, the bread will expand to fill out any slack in the string. Once it has risen per the recipe, you glaze it with an egg wash to give it that lovely autumnal shade of ocher and pop it into the oven. Just wait, your house will soon be filled with the yummy, yeasty smell of freshly baked bread–a cozier smell than any scented candle I can think of!
Remove the baker’s twine before plating the bread and get ready to set your tablescape. I purposely didn’t say your “Halloween tablescape” as this could be your table decor all month long. Like it is ours. 🙂
Side note: We’ve removed the skeleton since the photo below was taken as Kai decided the skeleton was scary after all. We considered telling Kai he’s not scary, he’s scientific, we all have bones inside of us, or even naming the skeleton to cut down on the fear factor, but when Kai started demanding requesting one of us escort him to the bathroom during dinner because our extra dinner guest was apparently frightening the bejusus out of him, we packed the skeleton up and sent him back to the attic until next season when Kai will be nearly six and, perhaps, ready to embrace Mr. Bones.
Because I was very punctual about setting up this tablescape (September 30th, to be exact), I’ve started to tweak it here and there so I don’t lose interest–although, admittedly, I’m nearly ready to swipe it back into the Rubbermaid storage bin from which it came and get ready for a more neutral, certainly less macabre, fall/Autum/Thanksgiving-is-almost-here version.
But it you’d like to borrow any elements of ours assuming you don’t already have something like it and are, thus, not terribly tired of it, here’s what you’ll need and where you’ll find it:
Placemats: We use these through all the seasons and even though we purchased them many years ago, they’ve held up through Kai’s toddler years and the current state of daily splatters of soft-boiled egg and the like. I highly recommend them. And the bit of black thread ties in nicely if you’re using black plates.
Glass vases: I mentioned these in a previous post, but they’re so good, they’re worth mentioning again. These simple vases work in all sorts of settings: decorating a nightstand, placed on the windowsill above your kitchen sink, next to the bottle of soap on your bathroom counter; and the list goes on.
Black plates: I have a new-found affinity for black tableware. Black plates have this wonderful ability to make any food you place on them pop in contrast–similar to the black velvet backdrop a jeweler uses to make his bling look its best . For years I was beholden to the classic look of white plates. Now I want the food I make to be displayed like jewels! Source here.
Black napkins: Did you notice these are actually black bandanas? Clever you! After months of using cloth napkins during the paper towel shortage of the first few months of the pandemic, I felt really happy we were being Eco-concious using cloth napkins, and really sad that all my linens I’d saved for special occasions (times when we might have company, other than ourselves, over to eat) were becoming sullied beyond anything stain-remover could fix. The solution: buying bandanas in bulk. They’re so inexpensive I don’t mind if they get a mark or two, or three; the bright ones are a great way to inject cheery color into summer table settings, but the black ones are classic, understated, and just moody enough for fall. Source here.
Horn napkin rings: I love, and stockpile, horn decor. A small horn bowl elevates a bowl of otherwise commonplace snacks and can corral the flotsam and jetsam on your nightstand (the rings/watch/lip balm/random rubber bands, etc.) making it appear neat, tidy and placed with intention, and a larger bowl makes your salad look enticing before anyone even tastes it. And the napkin rings are, well, just pretty. They can be found here.
Brass flatware: More on the pretty, plus it glints so nicely and makes a nice, bright, contrast against all the black. Something similar found here or here.
I decided our table decor needed something more and that something was these brown bottles labeled “Drink Me…”. These particular bottles are vanilla bottles I’ve been saving from Trader Joe’s waiting for inspiration to strike. Well, it did!
Granted we’re not having a dinner party any time soon, but, when we do, I plan to use these as place card holders (write your guest’s name on one side; the “Drink Me…” will be revealed when they flip it over) filled with a small amount of liqueur to add as a floater to the signature cocktail of the evening (for instance, if you served Pomegranate Cosmos, the floater could be Grand Marnier or Cointreau). Refer to them as “mini flasks” and they’ll double as party favors for your guests to take home as a parting gift. Of course for the wee ones and under-aged, the bottles could be filled with something non-alcoholic…like freshly squeezed pomegranate juice! 🙂
If, perchance, you aren’t saving your old vanilla bottles like I am (just a hunch), small brown bottles can be found here. I dabbed my finger into some espresso and dabbed it onto the office tag to give it a mottled, aged affect. Strongly-brewed coffee would work, as well.
There you have it! I hope these ideas inspire you to add some hints of Halloween to your home!