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 we can. 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 The Royal 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!
Lastly, this week I tried Martha Stewart’s recipe for Ile Flottante With Caramel Sauce.
It was supposed to look like this….
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.
Happy holidays and thanks for stopping by!