Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Times Square

Happy New Year!

Since so many of us will ring in 2009 by watching the ball drop on TV, I thought I'd post a photo from the heart of Times Square.

One Summer night, some friends walked here with us after seeing a show. It was very modern and colorful - it felt like we were moving around inside a giant "Lite Brite."

I wish you a new year filled with Moments of Delight!

Five, four, three, two, one...

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Book club

Tonight, I have book club. Twice a year, 8 of us meet for dinner and then walk over to the bookstore to select our books for the next 6 months. It is very democratic. We all scour the store for books that were recommended to us, that we have read and loved or ones that we want to read. Then we sit down together and each member gives a little summary of her books, passes them around and adds them to the master list. After each person has pitched her books, we vote, choosing 6 books each. The books with the most votes become our reading roster. It works like a charm. We get a broad selection and it keeps us from getting stuck in one genre. The trick for me will be staying on task and out of the cookbook section!

Are you in a book club? I'd like to recommend a website called Reading Group Guides. It is loaded with discussion guides, book suggestions and reader feedback. It is a wonderful resource and can help you navigate the overwhelming selection of great "book club" books. Happy reading!

Monday, December 29, 2008

Princess Diana's Wedding Gown

I loved Princess Diana.

I was 12 when I set my alarm to wake up early to watch her wedding "live" from London. I collected photo books filled with her beautiful gowns and was so enamoured with her that people brought me memorabilia from their trips to England. A nurse from our doctor's office brought me a porcelain dish that commemorated the Royal Wedding, a fellow girl scout brought me a matchbook that was printed with Charles & Diana's engagement photo and a distant relative even sent me an official "Princess Diana" mug. I loved each piece as a girl and to this day they are safely tucked away among my treasures.

So a few years ago, when my Mother-in-law announced that she was taking my sisters-in-law and me on a "girl's day" to have lunch and tour a Diana, A Celebration exhibit, I was speechless. This amazing exhibit was in Houston for just a few weeks (which happened to coincide with our yearly trip) and showcased over 30 of Princess Diana's suits, dresses and gowns - I was amazed at how many I recognized from the pages of my books. I was so overwhelmed I only managed to take one photograph and this is it. Thank you, Kay, for a day that I will always remember.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Winter Break

Are you getting a well-deserved rest after the big build-up to Christmas, or are you still meeting and greeting with family and friends? I am usually in Texas the week between Christmas and New Year's, spending time with my husband's wonderful family and navigating the whirl of delicious restaurants and cute shops. But this year, we will see his family at a reunion in the Spring (Washington, DC!), so we are home for a few quiet days after the holiday. I am reading books, drinking tea and thinking about all the lovely photos I want to take in 2009.

Friday, December 26, 2008

Snow Globe

When we put colored Christmas lights in our bushes, I knew that it would give a festive glow to the house. What I didn't expect was the 10 inches of snow we got in a blizzard the week before Christmas! It's been like "living in a snow globe." The colored lights glowing from beneath the snow looked like a scene from a Christmas card - simply magical.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Bourbon Balls - the perfect Christmas Cookie for Adults

I wanted to show you the jelly bean fireplace that I am so proud of...tah dah. This year the snow-covered lawn is made of tapioca pearls.

I also wanted to share my "rum ball" recipe with you. I have promised this recipe to many a friend, so I decided this is the year to include it in my blog. Made famous by my grandmother, these potent cookies are actually made with bourbon, not rum. The puzzling part is that they have never been made with rum, yet "rum balls" is what we have always called them. Feel free to continue the tradition and make "rum balls" for your friends and family.

I don't have a picture of them right now, but just imagine classic round cookie balls.  This gingerbread house is way cuter.  Enjoy!

Rum Balls

2 cups Nilla wafers cookie crumbs (not reduced fat version)
1 cup powdered sugar
2 Tablespoons light corn syrup
1/4 cup bourbon
1 cup white sugar (for rolling cookie balls in)

Pulverize Nilla wafers in a food processor until you have fine crumbs. Measure out 2 cups of crumbs into a bowl. Add powdered sugar, cocoa powder, corn syrup and bourbon and mix with a fork. Transfer mixture to empty food processor bowl and pulse until dough starts to cling together. Place a dinner plate covered with white sugar on the counter. Take dough by the teaspoon from the food processor bowl and roll between your palms into a ball. Then roll the ball in white sugar to coat. Voila! These cookies are best stored in a tin and will keep for weeks. Please note that since these cookies are not baked, the alcohol does not evaporate. They are absolutely delicious, but be aware that they pack a punch! Happy Holidays to one and all.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Sugar Cookies

This would make a great puzzle! Can you find "Rudolf the Red Nose Reindeer" near the bottom of the picture? And next to him is a "House full of love" (covered with red hearts) - look closely and see that the roof is strung with colored Christmas lights. Can you find the "Elephant with the purple blanket?" An important cookie in my family - I wrote about the tradition of it here.

This year, my favorite cookie is at the top of the picture. I have a new cookie cutter shaped like a t-shirt and Caroline decorated it to say "I (heart) Xmas."

Now that says it all, doesn't it?

Monday, December 22, 2008

Christmas Traditions

Every year, my husband and I spend a day in December baking and decorating my grandmother's sugar cookies with our 7 nieces and nephews. The kids (ages 17, 17, 15, 15, 13, 13 and 10) have been building this tradition with us since the oldest was only 4 years old and it really defines the holidays for me. There is Christmas music playing, "chocolate tea" (hot cocoa) on the break between baking and decorating and a general sense of ease. Rolling, cutting, baking and frosting is a long process, so the kids just relax and take their time.

This photo shows a few of the over 250 cookie cutters in my collection! A sweater (Caroline always makes one Fair Isle with rows of sprinkles, an ice skate (Emily laces it up with brown jimmies) and a sewing machine (This year William covered it with orange dots.) There are cookies everywhere.

The kids eat a few, keep a few and place the remaining on a tray "for dessert" on Christmas Eve, when we will all be together again (with their parents, and mine) to celebrate the holiday. I love this time of year!

Saturday, December 20, 2008

A Swedish Beach House Christmas

I have always referred to my decorating style as "Swedish Beach house" (paying no mind to the fact that we live neither in Sweden nor by the sea).

When I started planning the look of our house, I described plate racks, oval back chairs and dreamy blues & creams (Swedish) with pickled shell-colored kitchen cabinets,
off-white duck couches and touches of pink and celery (Beach house). Makes perfect sense to me. But sometimes people ask me, "How do you do Christmas in here?" Thinking that red & green would over-power the tranquil colors.

Here is a glimpse into our family room this Christmas. Shell-covered cone trees, Tracey Porter holiday glasses filled with pink candy canes and a pastel village set among my grandmother's china. It is my interpretation of a Swedish Beach house Christmas and I just love it.

Friday, December 19, 2008

White Hot Chocolate

I am in the middle of a blizzard and I can't stop thinking about Laura Ingalls Wilder's book, Little House in the Big Woods. Can you see the little house on my table runner? So sweet!

Today is a day for knitting, reading and staying inside where it is cozy. In honor of our first big blizzard, I have made white hot chocolate in my favorite Japanese cup by Tag.

White Hot Chocolate
1 cup whole milk
1/4 cup Land o Lakes fat free Half & Half
20 Nestle white chocolate chips
a few mini-marshmallows

Place milk, fat free half & half, and white chocolate chips in a microwave safe container. Microwave at 30 second intervals (whisking after each session) until milk is hot and chocolate has melted. Pour into an adorable mug, top with marshmallows and enjoy. This makes 1 serving - double as needed.

*My version of white hot chocolate is lighter than many recipes that are loaded with whipping cream etc. This is a comforting drink, that is not overly sweet. Tweak it as you wish to achieve the richness and flavor you desire. Just be sure to enjoy it!

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Sew Pretty

I think that anticipation is an underrated concept for grown-ups. When I put presents under the tree, I want everyone to:

A) Be excited
B) Think they are too pretty to open
C) Imagine what could be inside
D) All of the Above

I also like giving people something to talk about. Hence, my raspberry & cream sewing theme! I have wrapped all of our gifts in tissue patterns, sewing instructions and a classic raspberry print. By finishing some packages with tape measure ribbon or a homemade belt, the concept is complete.

I absolutely love how this looks and it was sew simple!

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Eskimo Kiss

When I am traveling, I'm always on the lookout for things that bring delight. My sisters-in-law in Texas are "on board" with this concept and consider it their mission to take me places that we don't have in Michigan.

Enter The Eskimo Hut.

We were driving home on a hot, Houston afternoon when Susan announced, "I know what you'll like!" and pulled into, what looked like, a car wash. To my amazement, it was a drive-thru frozen daiquiri store. You can order almost anything, but much of the draw is that you can get a "real" frozen margarita to take home and enjoy. Since it was mid-afternoon, we opted for nonalcoholic Pina Coladas and a few Diet Cokes, but it was really fun. Somehow choosing from a million flavor combinations (with names like "Code Red," "Orangesicle," and "Hurricane") and ordering from the car window, made us feel really wild. We got our giant drinks, popped in a straw and happily slurped all the way home.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Type & Text

I wanted to show you a wreath that I made from "paper scrap." If you like the idea of a wreath, but want to highlight non-traditional images (I hang this in my office year round), this is a neat way to go.

I love when type, text and images are combined and I found many of the items shown here in a book called Alphabets and Ornaments. It is a book & disc of images that you select and print yourself. I also added a recipe card written in my grandmother's hand, some sheet music etc. I think of it as a tribute to home & hearth.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Hansel and Gretel

If you have been searching for Hansel and Gretel, look no further. I have found their gingerbread cottage in the lobby of the Royal Park Hotel in Rochester, Michigan. My lovely neighbor and her Garden Club girls (age 9 & 11) invited me on a "field trip" to see this giant masterpiece in person. The gingerbread boy nearby boasts the recipe: 220 pounds of sugar, 300 pounds of gingerbread mix, 90 gallons of water, 240
We took pictures of ourselves with this luscious cottage and I asked the girls what part of the house tempted them the most. One wanted to taste each candy cane along the roofline, the other wanted to bite a gumdrop off the wall and I confessed that I would lick across the lollipop flowers and announce each flavor as I passed.

Thanks, Phyllis, for a delightful afternoon!

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Jewelry Box

Some days I simply have to give up on my "to do" list and make something. My "jewelry box" is calling - beads, buttons and baubles all waiting to evolve into something wonderful. So the moment I return from a Christmas lunch with the Garden Club girls, I will begin. I am imagining pretty little boxes of jewelry under the Christmas tree for all the girls on my list!

Friday, December 12, 2008

11 Ladies Dancing: Christmas Decoration

Years ago, Martha Stewart published instructions for making a holiday garland to honor the Christmas carol "The 12 Days of Christmas." 

I loved the garland of the eleven ladies dancing and chose to recreate them as individual ballerinas. They're made from white poster board (I traced Martha's template) and are dressed in paper gowns I made. Some have tissue paper skirts, others wear ribbon dresses, some even have paper doily aprons, but the color scheme is always simply red and white. I would include a link to the template, but it isn't online. The Martha Stewart Living issue was from the 1990's.

I love these ladies that dance and swish their skirts around my Christmas tree.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Cottage Built For Two

To me, making a gingerbread house is a lot like designing jewelry. There are an infinite number of combinations and the building materials are gorgeous!

In 2006, I made three gingerbread houses because I simply could not decide on a style. I literally had my own little neighborhood and it was fantastic.

This "cottage built for two" is for a sweet young couple returning from their honeymoon. My favorite part was using sticks of gum as aluminum siding! And the Necco wafer roof, of course.
"Honey, I'm home!"

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Reindeer Games

I was having people over for the holidays and decided to serve my ginger cakes as a sweet treat. The last time I baked them, a friend pulled me aside in the kitchen and confessed that she'd eaten four! That was all I needed to hear.

In the back of my mind, I remembered seeing a really cute white cupcake topped with a plastic reindeer in a magazine (Country Living, Dec 2008). So when I stopped at the cake decorating store to pick up some mini-cupcake liners, I asked the salesgirl, "Do you have any realistic plastic deer?"

She thought about it, hesitated, then walked over to a cluttered shelf. "Well...we have these," she said as if there was no way that they had what I wanted. It was the exact reindeer from the magazine and was the best $2 I've ever spent. They took my box mix cupcakes to a whole new level, and became an unexpected party favor - no one wanted to leave without their reindeer! I tell you, delight is everywhere.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Winter White

A floral arrangement in antique white can look so lovely this time of year. I was lucky to find a bunch of hypericum berries in peach and paired them with cream roses in an old-fashioned sugar bowl. So pretty! And this photograph captures it forever.

I just received the January issue of Victoria magazine and it is dedicated to moments of winter white. What was the first thing I did? I made myself a mug of white hot chocolate - yum. Do you indulge in winter white?

Monday, December 8, 2008

Ginger Hearts

I believe that little touches are the secret to making a big impression. An understated couch with one fabulous pillow. A classic watch with a velvet ribbon band. Or in this case, store-bought cookies (Ikea) embellished with Wilton white frosting. Don't they look like they are from a little Swedish bakery? I was inspired by the beautiful baking at the Swedish Christmas fair and this is the result. I am starting off the week with a cup of coffee and a ginger cookie. Join me?

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Christmas Cards

One year I received a Christmas card depicting a horse-drawn sleigh carrying a young couple home with a fresh Christmas tree. I loved the image and wanted to preserve it some how. So I thought, why not make it a Christmas ornament?

I collected some newspaper (the movie guide), olive green ribbon (a scrap), a button, silver glitter, pinking shears and a bottle of craft glue. A few minutes later - voila!

Inspiration is everywhere - this time it was in my mailbox!

Friday, December 5, 2008

Marshmallow Snowstorm

Are you looking for a pretty centerpiece? From my perspective, nothing beats a little paper village after a marshmallow snowstorm. And it smells as sweet as it looks! Keep your eye out for vintage-style buildings in discount stores and antique shops and as you build your collection, just make sure that the houses and churches you choose are all the same scale. I love how my little Winter village looks, I hope you do too.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Sugar Plum

There is something so magical about department store windows at Christmastime. I took this sugarplum fairy vignette last year at the Macy's on State Street in Chicago. The figures moved back and forth into graceful poses - it was lovely.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Family Tree

This is my maternal grandmother as a little girl. Oh, to wear big hair bows! In those days a photograph was so precious - she must have been thrilled to have hers taken.

I was named Anne after her and we spent hours and hours together at her cottage in Leland each Summer. She had an enormous garden (with delphinium and foxglove spikes taller than me!) and we would eat egg salad sandwiches on a metal table & chairs out by the garden.

I think she would like that each year I make a "family tree" for Christmas. Handmade ornaments made with vintage photographs (reproduced on fabric), sweet calico and a little pink glitter.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Visual, Edible, Givable

My mantra for holiday preparations has always been Visual. Edible. Givable. In that order.

I start with decorating. I find that once I have taken care of the "visual" joy of the holidays (decorating the Christmas trees, making a gingerbread house, putting holiday touches in each room) I enjoy myself much more. Friends can drop by and the house looks "ready" (even though I'm not!).

Then comes baking. Once I've made a batch of gingerbread men (super easy - see my secret here), I always have something to offer my friends and family. The house smells delicious and they taste great any time of day with a cup of coffee. I also bake Nama's Sugar Cookies (stay tuned) several times each December - yum!

It is only when the house looks festive and the cookies are in the tin, that I start to shop for gifts. Coming home with bags & boxes is much more fun when the visual and edible has been taken care of. Then comes the wrapping! I always choose signature colors and try be creative with my choice of papers. This year I will be wrapping in cream and raspberry - the cream gift wrap will actually be sewing patterns and for raspberry, I'll use some beautiful double pink wrapping paper that I found at the hardware store!

May you enjoy every minute of the holidays!

Monday, December 1, 2008

Cyber Monday

Today the world wide web is a-buzz with holiday shoppers. Traditionally, the Monday after Thanksgiving is so big for online sales that it has been dubbed "Cyber Monday."

So I expect my web store, ANA, will be humming today. My daybag on the left is called a Delight tote - made entirely of plastic and tape!

I also have ribbon watches, cigar box purses and my book, Moments of Delight. It's a beautiful soft cover photography book with inspirational stories, recipes and ideas for enjoying the beauty of everyday life.

Want to spoil your Mom? Give her a sometime to delight!

Take a peek - it is Cyber Monday, after all!