Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Apartment Living: A Window Box with Science in the Soil

I couldn't take it any longer. I was in Seattle in mid-March and every home improvement store, garden center and grocery store in Seattle had racks of herbs and flowers for sale. I'm strong, but I'm not that strong. 


Three inches of snow fell last night (3/30/15) in Michigan, my home base, and we are weeks (and weeks?) away from planting our pots.  

Yet back on March 9th in Seattle, Spring was in full swing! When I see cherry blossoms like this, it's hard not to think gardening.
So I decided that a window box for our apartment balcony would make sense. Herbs for cooking and flowering plants for color. I will certainly add pots and plants when I am in Seattle later this Spring, but this type of planter should be able to thrive while I'm away.

I bought a wonderful black plastic window box (with drainage holes and a water tray) at Home Depot, a bag of Miracle Grow Moisture Control Potting Soil and a collection of plants.
I crumpled a few strips of paper grocery bag to help support the plants and make up for my shortage of soil. I needed about 5 cups more to truly fill the planter properly - hopefully the paper will help with drainage and circulation. Some of the plants were potted in disintegrating pots, which I love, because you plant the herb right into the soil in it's pot and don't have to disturb their roots removing a plastic pot.

I chose Miracle Grow "Moisture Control" potting soil because it contains fertilizer and a component that retains water (from rain or intentional watering) and then releases the water to the plants as the soil becomes dry. I figure that the rain in Seattle will help naturally water my garden and the science in the soil will help keep the plants happy. 

The plants I chose are:

  • primulas (pink, yellow, apricot)
  • violas/pansies (lavender, violet/orange)
  • Cinnamon Basil
  • Pineapple Mint (it's risky, but I kept this mint in the pot when I planted it. Mint has an aggressive root system and I didn't want it to take over and stifle the other plants)
  • Sage
  • Lemon Thyme
  • Dill
  • Rosemary
The photograph at the top shows my little garden just after planting. Here it is, two weeks later and still doing well! Miracle Grow indeed.

Monday, March 30, 2015

Spending Easter with my Peeps: Color and Sugar Rules

I love color so much that I can see this photo of the Peeps display at Target as a poster. Wouldn't this add a little sunshine to a college dorm room? One day I was talking with another baker and told her that I was driven by color and sugar. She replied, "Me too! Color, sugar and glitter!"

It is Easter week and I just love how the Peeps brand has embraced the fun of color and sugar. Have you seen a display like this? Bravo. 

Have fun making your family Easter baskets! 

Friday, March 27, 2015

Apartment Decorating: A Paper Enhanced Acrylic Tray: An Inexpensive Custom Touch

I had days to wait for the truck to arrive with our furniture and housewares. I had an empty apartment and dreams of decorating. I accomplished a lot of "setting up an apartment" errands and did what I could to pass the time.  I visited Michaels Craft store every day as I plotted a way to make a wall of mirrors, evaluated their stock of picture frames and considered the color palate for our new nest.
You can see the promotional color board (above) that the apartment complex chose. The painted walls are biscuit (shown above as off white but in reality far more deep beige), the carpeting is a warm chestnut, the kitchen has dark walnut cabinets with stainless steel appliances and the kitchen and bathroom floors are linoleum, but look like a soft barn wood grey. 

It's a strong color palette and I like it, but it leans more toward Pottery Barn than Shabby Chic. I wanted to make something that would make the color palate seem a little more friendly. I put together a collection of fabrics that I was working with and took a picture. Whenever I am shopping, I referred to this picture on my phone. 
From the top, a pink and tan stripe fabric (tablecloth), 2 yards of fabric: gray with white lace-like flowers (use TBD), cream/tan stripe pillow cushion (couch), darker brown/gold/lt teal print cushion (chair - actually the best match for the apartment coloring), gray & white print cloth napkins, taupe/white oak leaf (dish towel) and pink/gray/cream patchwork (throw). My "mood board" so far was leaning a little feminine, so when I was shopping for paper for this project, I tried to bring in the colors of the darker print chair. For me, that translated to polka dots in tan and gold.

I was impatient to unpack boxes, but they were on a truck somewhere in the Great Plains, so I thought a craft project would help me bide my time. I found two acrylic platter in the party department at Michaels (on clearance for $2.50 each) and then picked up a foam sponge (59 cents), Elmer's white glue ($1.89?) and two sheets of scrapbook paper.
The only real qualification when selecting the paper is making sure that it is large enough to cover the center oval surface area of the platter. Also try not to choose a paper that has actual texture or depth. Texture gives the place for the glue to rest and it won't dry well.  

Choose a print that will enhance your decor. A bright pink and green toile. A classic red plaid. A dreamy tye-dye. Once you start to look, you'll be surprised how many scrapbook papers look like fabric. Most sheets are just 59 cents. How can you go wrong? Peel the manufacturer label carefully off the back of the platter.
Lay the platter face down and then lay the paper (printed side down) onto the bottom of the platter. The bottom oval of the platter is where you will glue the paper. Hold the paper steady and rub your finger around the rim of the center lip. This will trace the oval and give you an easy mark to follow when cutting the paper. Cut out the oval following the dent on the paper.
Dispense a thin stream of glue around the center oval on the bottom of the platter. Spread it evenly with the foam brush. Place the paper oval printed side down (so that the design will show through the plastic when you turn the platter over) onto the glue.  Smooth the paper and try to eliminate any bubbles by gently sliding your finger across the paper. Allow to dry. 
Now you have a designer-touch platter that is still food safe. The glue and paper are on the bottom of the acrylic tray and you can arrange the fruit, cheese and crackers on top and all's well. I intend to cut a piece of adhesive felt (also available at Michaels for about $1.80) and adhere it to the bottom of the platter, over the paper. It will give it a nice, slide on the counter, finish. Just be sure to hand wash the platter carefully.

In my oh-so-empty apartment, my cute new polka dot tray looks great and makes things feel a bit more like home. A plastic cup "vase" of fresh daffodils helps too.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Planning Projects: Let it Percolate

I wrote about having a Master Plan back in 2009. When I referred to it again this week in my post about decorating cookies with edible wafer paper, I occurred to me that I left out part of the explanation.  

Having a Master Plan can mean that you have a stockpile of ideas that you want to try, much like a Pinterest Board, and that satisfaction comes when you follow your plan to completion, like when I finally put that French ribbon around my bouquet of mustard-colored roses. 

What I neglected to say is that a master plan can also include ideas you've had for years. I write this because of the images above and below. Every year I try and get a few good pictures of the landscape - cherry orchards, rolling hills, vineyards, barns, trees.  Why?
I want to embroider or needlepoint the landscape of northern Michigan. Rolling hills with trees in every shade of green, a cherry orchard (french knots?), Lake Michigan in the distance. 

I know that I can buy a software program called "PC Stitch" that converts photos into cross stitch patterns, but I'm not ready. The software costs $50 and once you load it onto your computer you can convert images forever. So my dream its within reach, but I'm not done thinking about it yet. Does that make sense?  It is part of my master plan. 

My suggestion is to make note of things you'd like to try. When you think about it again and it comes even more into focus, jot those ideas down too. There's no hurry. Let it percolate. 

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Blank Walls and Big Opportunities

Where have I been and what's going on? I have been distracted with finding and then setting up an apartment in Seattle.  Last year, many of my blog posts came to you from our darling room at a Residence Inn in a suburb of Seattle, Washington. Whenever I was in town, I baked desserts in my convection toaster oven and had a wonderful time trying new restaurants and writing about shops, sweets and treats I discovered.

This year we decided to put hotels behind us and set up a pied a terre - a small living unit in a city that is close to work. It has been incredibly fun having a blank canvas to decorate and I know that I won't be able to resist sharing some of my decorating successes.  Projects, artwork, design ideas...even apartment gardening. I find inspiration everywhere I turn when I am in the Pacific Northwest. And I've been having the most interesting conversations.

Are you looking forward to seeing what I come up with in this new environment? I am!

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Custom Cookie Cutters and Edible Art from Fancy Flours

So much of my happiness comes from completing projects from what I call my master plan. I make up something I want to do or try and then chip away at it until everything falls into place.  

In this case, I want to do more cookie decorating with edible wafer paper. Edible wafer paper is a potato starch paper printed with USDA-approved food coloring. It allows beautiful images to decorate cookies. Remember when I first tried it here?

And I wanted to amuse myself with these ridiculous (and I mean ridiculous in the best possible way) Marie Antoinette edible wafer paper images from my favorite baking source, Fancy Flours

When one wants to make Marie Antoinette-style cookies, one needs an Marie Antoinette-style cookie cutter. No small feat. A Marie Antoinette would be impossible to find but easy to make. Especially when you have a "Make Your Own Cookie Cutter" Kit and a husband with excellent handicraft skills. Look closely in the image above and you can see it. A cookie cutter that will accommodate a large head of hair and an enormous skirt.  Custom, indeed.

Fancy Flours sells the Make Your Own Cookie Cutter kit and the wafer paper, as well as a beautiful copper plaque cookie cutter that would also highlight the Marie Antoinette images if a custom cutter isn't in your near future. 

I have the cookie cutter, wafer paper and rolling pin packed! I'm taking it all to Florida and doing some condo-baking by the sea. 

What do you have in your luggage?

Monday, March 23, 2015

High Heels and High Tea at the Townsend Hotel

This event had my name written all over it. I mean really, tea and a chance to see a lot of my old friends from my active days as a volunteer for the Junior League of Birmingham. I arrived early and I stayed late. That's how much I enjoyed the day.
The event was held at The Townsend Hotel and it was beautiful, right down to the fine china. This is what a proper event looks like: Cloth napkins, champagne punch (yes, why don't we have punch more often?), floral centerpieces and polite conversation.
More than 50 women enjoyed scones with clotted cream and lemon curd, beautiful tea sandwiches and a trio of sweets. I don't know how many cups of tea I drank, but I was wide awake all afternoon. I felt energized. I laughed, heard updates on children and careers and could finally check in with so many of the outstanding women that I have met over the years. Facebook keeps up connected, but to me, eye contact is everything. If you ever have the chance to join a Junior League in your area, I encourage you to check it out. Attend an open house. Meet some members. My time as an active member in the Junior League of Birmingham, Michigan were some of the best years of my life. I can't recommend it highly enough. It takes time and commitment, but the personal and professional benefits are priceless.

I was able to sit with some really great friends of mine at the tea. Women that I used to see almost weekly, but now we manage to cross paths only once a year. We have vowed to try and change that and are even working on a Facebook Group Page where we can coordinate outings, like carpooling to the the antique show in Saline, Michigan or the Ann Arbor Art Show in July. Events that are more fun with a pack of girls. I am sure that it will be beneficial.

Friendships need to be treasured. When like-minded women connect, it can be powerful. Over 11 years, we spent hours and hours working alongside one another, talking, strategizing and supporting each other in our mission to do meaningful volunteer work. Now that we are older and alumnae of the organization, we owe it to ourselves to protect the friendships we've made. All I need is a little organization and a few great events. Wish me luck.

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Bald Eagle Nest: Nature Cam Shows 2 Eggs About to Hatch

I want to make sure that you know about the LIVE Eagle Cam that is set up to view the movement inside an active Bald Eagle nest in Hanover, Pennsylvania. The website states that this nest has been used by eagles 7 out of the last 10 years and we are all indebted to the parties responsible for making this live video stream possible. Different individuals and entities have worked together to install the camera, get an internet feed and provide electricity which allows for this unobstructed look at nature. Their contributions are detailed on the eagle cam website.

I have tuned in periodically and it has been very interesting to see the eagle mates taking turns keeping the eggs warm and dry. I saw one eagle covered in snow, only her neck and head exposed, during a snow storm a few weeks ago. Another time I watched as the bird kept its wings open like an umbrella, shielding the main nest area from rain and cold. It is very interesting. 

There are 2 eggs in the nest and today the first crack appeared! We should be able to see some action in the eagle nursery soon. I wouldn't be surprised if someone creates a Twitter contest to name the fledglings. There are almost 60,000 members of the Hanover Eagle Watch Facebook group. Modern incubation, that's for sure.

By the way, I only use my own photography at Moments of Delight, so I've included a photo I took of a bald eagle on the beach in Northern Michigan as a "this post is about eagles" reference point.

Friday, March 20, 2015

Chelsea: My Darling Collection can finally fill the Plate Rack

My heart's delight - my vintage China collection of Chelsea (aka Grandmother's China) on my plate rack. I like to call my decorating style Swedish Beach house - seaside colors and Swedish touches like plate racks and oval back chairs. 

My mom and aunt love antiquing and have been adding to my collection for years. This pretty display has come together one piece at a time and that makes it precious to me. I just reached the point where I can make a full display in the family room.  

I add touches of lavender around the room to relate back to this display. The style of this china pattern reminds me of Laura Ashley in her hay day. Periwinkle marks that look like fleur de lis or small floral clusters are evenly spaced on pure white china.  A few special pieces are enhanced with lustre which adds a glint of copper.  

My mom, aunt and I are planning to have tea together from this set soon.  We laugh that dinner is out of the question - we can't find any dinner plates! But isn't that is the fun of collecting.  

It is a sentimental hunt for the final few pieces I need to makes things right. Wouldn't you agree?

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Northwest Flower and Garden Show: Dig Floral and Garden

The layered display at Dig Floral and Garden booth within the Northwest Flower and Garden Show (Seattle/Feb 2015) reminded me of all that I could be doing in my suburban garden to add a little style.  I love the mix of natural colors and materials, punctuated with color. I could really see myself with a copper and cement shelf, as shown to the right of the image (above).
The beautiful selection of succulents at the Dig Floral and Nursery booth made me wonder why I didn't already own one of each. Their quiet unassuming nature fit in perfectly with the style and mood of the Dig display. Now that I will be spending a lot more time in Seattle, a ferry ride out to visit Dig on Vashon Island is within reach. I can't wait.

Saturday, March 14, 2015

Pi Day: A La Mode Pies in Seattle

It was March 14, 2015. March 14 is traditionally celebrated as Pi Day (3.14) and in honor of the occasion, everyone tries to eat pie.  This year the date 3-14-15 is the closest it will get to representing Pi, which is 3.1415926535897932....so everyone was even more willing to celebrate the coincidence.
Since it was Saturday and we had even more flexibility in our schedule, we ran errands and then drove over to A la Mode Pies in Phinney Ridge (Seattle) in the afternoon. We arrived around 5 pm and there was still a line! 

The street side window has the pie bakers on display. The staff was working like a well oiled machine - one baker was managing crust preparation (cutting butter into flour in a professional grade food processor) and had her latest crust taken by someone holding a pie tin the moment she set it down - every time. There was also an apple/peeler/corer slicer tool on the butcher block table getting a workout. The door to this baking mecca was ajar and the scent of warm spiced apples was intoxicating and completely changed my order. 

I'm not kidding. I was intent on getting Bourbon Butterscotch, but could not resist ordering apple by the time I reached the counter. My solution was a slice of Spiced Apple with a scoop of ice cream now; a slice of Bourbon Butterscotch to go. Dan concurred. The warm apple pie hit all the right notes. I celebrated "pi" and "pie" and was willing to raise a fork to any other notion someone proposed. Homemade pie is a triumph.  

Did you celebrate Pi Day with gusto?

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Love and Buttercream: What Could Be Better?

I couldn't believe my eyes when I read my local library's webpage.  We were invited to sign up for a free cupcake class on a Tuesday evening in March. The staff from local bakery, Love and Buttercream "will showcase buttercream styles including ombre designs, flower topped cupcakes, and buttercream flowers, and demonstrate simple fondant decorations and the ideal tools for creating your cupcakes. Attendees will have the opportunity to test out each technique and ask questions, and will leave with four frosted cupcakes, full bellies, and some wonderful knowledge about cupcake creation." 

I clicked the link and registered immediately, but my confirmation said "Waiting List." I crossed my fingers and my luck came through. I received a call from the library the day before notifying me that there had been a cancellation and I was in.

It was a very fun evening. Twenty men and women came together to learn a little something about cake decorating. The buttercream was delicious - made from all natural ingredients and real salted butter. Each participant had 4 cupcakes (red velvet, white, ginger and eggless chocolate) to frost and we were given parchment paper sheets to practice our technique.  There were 6 bags of buttercream - each color had a different tip. I am guessing which tip we used below for the purpose of illustration.

We tried to make a circle of comma-shaped puffs with tip 353, filled in with more commas, to eventually look like a mum (yellow icing in distance).  

We used the closed star tip to coax a flower out of a continuous spiral of frosting (purple icing). The bag containing green icing was snipped into a "V" at the end and it made the perfect wavy leaf. If the icing was put into the bag with streaks of darker green, the frosting leaves would look even more realistic. Next time!

I finally figured out the petal tip and the twist of the wrist that makes an individual petal when you write a closed top "U" with the icing (pink icing).

I resorted to polka dots with the small circle tip (blue icing) to soothe my inner Cath Kidston. The easiest to create and it fits in beautifully.

The purple and yellow one? I made basket weave cupcakes a few years ago and they were darling. When we had time in class to experiment, I decided to try it again. If only I was a Lakers fan.

The two bakers from Love & Buttercream that led the class were just darling. Very helpful. Happy to be there and proud of the company they worked for. These girls had icing prowess and they were eager to help share their knowledge. 

The entire evening was a success. The bakery gained exposure in the community; the staff had a chance to try their hand at teaching and the participants were just plain happy to be there. You could hear it in the ripples of laughter and lighthearted banter as they tried to manipulate sugar and butter into art. 

Thank you, Love & Buttercream, I loved it. And I will stop by your bakery too, I promise.