Saturday, July 30, 2011

Bluebird Whitefish Dinner on the Terrace

What a night!  A beautiful whitefish dinner cooked on the grill and served on a riverside patio.  To me, this kind of meal is the epitome of Summer.  I was thrilled when the famous Bluebird restaurant opened an outdoor patio to offer vacationers another option for dinner.  Don't you love to eat outside?

If you would like to cook whitefish on the grill, you can follow my recipe here.  It is delicious!  Bon appetit!

Friday, July 29, 2011

Glittering Hydrangeas

Use your imagination and picture these dried hydrangeas dusted with pewter glitter.  Gorgeous, right? 

My dining room is pretty quiet in September and October and I'd like to make a substantial flower arrangement that will look nice as a centerpiece for a few weeks.  Something that will make the room looked "finished" if people glance in.  You know what I mean?

I am going to play up the mauve, gray and celery shades of these spent blooms with some glitter.  I haven't tried it before, but I imagine that it won't take much more than a well-ventilated area (read: my backyard), a spray can of glue and a shaker of fine Martha Stewart glitter.

I cut these fading blooms off the hydrangea bushes (I hope they will re-bloom!) and have been drying these blossoms in the sun and breeze and think that they will be completely dry within the week.  Once I work my magic, I will show you the result.  Have you ever glittered something you found in Mother Nature?  

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Homemade Fudgesicles in Empire

How do chocoholics cool off?  With a gourmet fudgesicle, of course!  With the Midwest reaching record temperatures over the last few weeks, I can only assume that fudgesicle consumption is "up" at Grocer's Daughter Chocolates in Empire, Michigan.

I was exploring Leelanau County last week, when the craving hit.  Chocolate.  I wanted chocolate.  Grocer's Daughter is always my first thought when I am in this neck of the woods and in the Summertime they make gourmet fudgesicles.

My choice (shown above) was a frozen concoction of dark chocolate mixed with coconut milk and a swirl of blueberry lavender jam.   Yum!  Although most would agree that "the more chocolate the better," this ice cube-size treat is so rich and delicious it is really all you need.

Thank you, Grocer's Daughter, for this delicious blog-worthy treat!

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Silver Patina on Ice Bucket make Arrangement even Prettier

I was at my friend's recently helping her get the house ready for a party she was throwing.  We tried different tablecloths on the table, compared various combinations of plates (chargers, dinner and salad) and pulled out all of her cloth napkins to find the pattern that worked the best.  It was really fun and when you have a friend to talk it over with, design decisions are easy.

When we pulled out the bottles of wine and sparkling water to chill, she said she was disappointed that she hadn't had time to shine her silver footed punch bowl.  She thought it would have looked neat filled with ice and all the different bottles.  When I saw that it was such a beautiful piece, I convinced her to use it anyway (it became a wonderful addition to the bar) and cited my silver ice bucket above as an example of the beauty of old silver.

I told her that since my ice bucket was an antique that had gone without being polished or care for for years, it had acquired a unique patina, along with delicate scarring and a grey haze in some areas, that I simply couldn't buff off.  But it is beautiful!  And I think that the fact that it looks like an antique makes it even better.  If we wait until our silver pieces are perfectly shined, we may never use them at all.  The next time you are ruling out a silver vase or tray because you don't have the time or energy to shine it, ask yourself if it doesn't look a little bit beautiful with a patina.  You might just see it in a new light.     

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Antique Blue Lustre Tea Set

Must. Stop. Antiquing.  What am I going to do?  I fall in love with too many things and the question becomes where to put it all.  But really, didn't I need this blue lustre tea set for my living room?  Especially considering that the woman at the community garage sale looked me in the eye and said "7 dollars."

I'm not kidding!  This tea set included a tea pot, creamer, sugar, 4 cups and saucers, 4 dessert plates and came with 2 wood oval serving trays - the age shows in the luster coating on some of the pieces, but the set has no chips or cracks!  From my sleuthing online, this seems to be a Japanese tea set from the 1920-30s.  The simple design and combination of biscuit and blue lustre took my breath away.  Love, love, love - that is all there is to it.

What becomes fun is decorating with it.  First and foremost, the china echos the colors in the antique quilt I have on the wall.  Then I used a paper placemat (that my Mom saved and gave me) from the restaurant, PAUL, to line a tray that I had.  Remember when I wrote about PAUL?  The restaurant in Florida has closed, but the locations in France are going strong.  I'm so glad my mom had the wisdom to keep her placemat - it looks perfect here.  I showed her the other day and she took a little bow.  It was also her idea to move my "macaroon" candles to the dessert plate.  Cute!

So, yes, I need to slow down on the antiquing.  Just not quite yet.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Petite Sweet: Key Lime Pie

Do you want to take their breath away?  How about serving a petite sweet

My strategy for making super cute desserts is serving individual portions on small antique plates and then crowning each dessert with an edible flower. 

Made with just four ingredients (eggs, sweetened condensed milk, key lime juice and pre-made tart shells), this is the type of petite sweet that you can be ready to make at a moment's notice.  And now it is even easier to keep the these ingredients on hand, because I just discovered that Walmart now stocks Nellie and Joe's key lime juice.  Hallelujah. 

Key Lime Petite Sweet
1/2 cup key lime juice
1 can fat free sweetened condensed milk (14 oz)
4 egg yolks
1 package of 6 mini graham cracker pie crusts
6 edible flowers

Stir sweetened condensed milk and egg yolks together. While stirring, slowly pour in key lime juice.  Place the individual pie crusts (in their metal tins) on a cookie sheet for stability.  Pour mixture into pie crusts and bake at 350 degrees for 15-20 minutes. Allow to cool and then refrigerate a few hours to allow flavor to develop.  Before serving top with an edible flower, like this pansy.  Serve and bask in the oohs and ahhs. 

(Note: Edible flowers can be purchased in the packaged herb section of many large grocery stores and also at farm stands/vegetable marts where the blossoms are packaged and marketed specifically as edible flowers)

Saturday, July 23, 2011

A Walk in the Woods

I was looking in the woods at our cottage for an inconspicuous place to take a few patches of moss.  My plan is to transport the patch in a plastic bag with some damp paper towel to my house downstate.  I really want to transplant it onto a wire watering can planter that I have.  I'm sure that I can keep it alive and let it grow on the watering can frame outdoors.

Anyhoo, it was my search for moss that made me appreciate a walk in the woods.  My mind wandered.  I started looking for signs of the fox brothers.  It was quiet and lush and green and I could finally hear myself think.  So what did I do?  I went back to the house and got my camera.  I thought that you might need a walk in the woods too.

As for moss collection, it is still on my "to do" list. 

Friday, July 22, 2011

Designer Series Evian and Bling Water Collection

Only a real friend would give you bling!  My designer water bottle collection is growing.  And by designer, I really mean designer.  For the past few years, Evian water has released a limited edition holiday bottle designed by fashion designers.  From left to right above:  Jean-Paul Gaultier, Paul Smith and Christian Lacroix. Have you seen them?  The latest design (which I still need) is by Issey Miyake and you can see it here.

One year, I brought these special bottles along to holiday parties - it was much more fun to bring than wine.  And at home, I use them for candles or flowers.

But until recently, I was missing the Paul Smith "swirly ribbon" bottle.  Since it is limited edition, I thought I had missed my chance until my friend Corinne surprised me with it!  Her husband found it in Chicago and brought it back for me - so nice!  And as an added bonus, they got me a bottle of "bling" water too!  Isn't it gorgeous?  Those are real Swarovski crystals on the bottle and it puts a whole new twist on what it means to be a sparkling water.  Ha! 

I haven't opened it yet.  Like champagne, I have been saving it for a special occasion.  My birthday, perhaps?  Thank you, Corinne!  I love these bottles more than you can know.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Garden Center at Home

Channel your inner florist and make your own private garden center!  I have turned a little nook into a functioning flower arranging station. 

I took a 2-piece baker's rack from my basement (I'm only using the base here) and organized it with rigid cream polyester and brown print paper boxes from IKEA.  The top containers hold my vases (including my hand-painted jam jars, pop cans etc) and floral food.  The center drawer is filled with clippers, plant ties, and flower arranging items like glass balls, frogs and floral floats.  And on the bottom rack, I am keeping my sprays, hummingbird food, garden tonics and the like.

I love this system!  I can carry the cut flowers in from the garden in a basket and then do all of my flower arranging right here.  All I need to start is a big pitcher of water and soon I'll have a bouquet for every room in the house.  I love Summer! 
(Safety Tip: my garden center is in a locked area near the garage, so I am comfortable having the chemicals here.  Do not leave chemicals in an outdoor garden center where children could discover them.) 

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Cherry-Studded Coffeecake

One of our groomsmen (my husband's friend from college) has a layover in Detroit (he's flying in from his home/job in Kazakhstan) and we are scooping him up for a few days to visit and show him Michigan. 

Even though our guest room at home in the suburbs is ready, we've decided that he would really enjoy the "Americana" of a weekend at the cottage.

I hope he gets some sleep on the plane because, so far, we have decided that he should have a chance to:
  • swim in Lake Michigan
  • go for a boat ride
  • eat a nice fish dinner at The Bluebird in Leland
  • watch the sun set
  • have a beach fire
  • eat cherry pie
Our region of northern Michigan is called "Cherry Country."  We are on the 45th parallel (which is known around the globe for producing the best stone fruit) so "something cherry" is a must. 

In fact, I am making a simple coffee cake tomorrow studded with dried cherries to eat on Saturday morning.  Nothing beats going out on the deck with a hunk of coffee cake and a enamelware mug of coffee.  It's camp for grown ups! 

Simply take 2 boxes of Pillsbury Cinnamon Swirl quick bread mix and follow the instructions on the box (note the "when using 2 boxes" instructions) to bake a Bundt-size coffeecake.  When you add the cinnamon layer in the center, include a cup of dried cherries.  It is easy and delicious!

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

A Beautiful Ending

Sometimes we all need a sunset to provide a beautiful ending to an otherwise hectic day. 

A sunset is a natural conclusion to the day - it says you've done all you can do today, go get some rest so that you can start again tomorrow.  This is when I like to pick up a good book and relax for a while.

If you are looking for some reading suggestions, trying looking at the website, Reading Group Guides.  It is loaded with book club "favorites" lists, plot summaries and discussion questions.  You can even look up books by theme (women and friendship, books set in foreign locales, memoirs) - I'm sure you can find some titles that interests you.  Good night and good reading!  

Monday, July 18, 2011

Paris Notecards

Stand with me and do a little window shopping in Paris.  I took this photograph of a stationary shop window near Poilane Bakery on rue Cherche-Midi.  If only we could find a selection of Paris-inspired note cards like this here! 

My book, Paris: Delight in the City of Light, is selling very well online (and in person!) and since a personal touch is important to me, I have been on the hunt for Paris-inspired note cards that I can write a little note on when I ship a book out from an online order. 

Look at what I found!  These darling pink-edged note cards featuring a small golden Eiffel Tower.  What could be more perfect?

So the notes go out and the feedback comes in.  I have been enjoying hearing reader feedback (how could I not?) and in addition to words like "devoured,"  this is my favorite quote from over the weekend:  "I read both of your books cover to cover last week while on vacation. I got excited all over again!"

Yes, Paris-lovers, this is delight. 

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Blueberry Gateau

Are you in charge of dessert for your next bookclub?  Need something to wow your Mother-in-Law?  Have I got a simple cake recipe for you! 

I have been faithfully baking this blueberry gateau recipe (courtesy of Blueberry Hill Inn in Goshen, VT) for the past ten years.  Since I bake and write about it so often during blueberry season, at some point people started to think of it as "my" blueberry gateau, but I want to make sure to direct you to its original source above.  It is a winner and I wouldn't change a thing.   

Things to love about this cake:
  1. It looks "homemade" in the best possible way.  You worked your magic with butter, sugar and eggs and it shows.
  2. It is loaded with fresh fruit.
  3. You get to say gateau.

Friday, July 15, 2011

MacKenzie Childs Flowers

In deference to the whimsy of MacKenzie Childs, I let the rose petals "fall as they may" - I think it actually adds to the bouquet, don't you?  When one rose gives up the ghost, I slip in a few more fresh blooms.

I was delighted to find this MacKenzie Childs hand-painted glass pitcher (and four matching octagonal glasses!) at a garage sale last month.  The owner of this gorgeous set had loaned them to her sister and who ran them through the dishwasher! 

"Oh no," was all I could say when she told me.  She was clearly upset about it and wanted to sell them to put it all behind her.  $5 later, I was the proud owner!  You know that my decorating style is "Swedish Beach House," so a little faded paint doesn't bother me at all.  In fact, I inserted one of my hand-painted jars inside the pitcher (banana polka dots) and it compliments it perfectly.

The next time a few of your roses fall to petals, leave them.  Tell yourself that a scattering of petals is a touch a whimsy

Thursday, July 14, 2011

City Series, Birmingham, AL: Banana Pudding

Ahhh...the southern classic, Banana Pudding.  The only problem was that I'm not southern and I had never made or eaten this classic.  Yet I was in charge of helping Melanie make it for dessert at a party hosted in our honor.  Yikes!

I used a Food Network recipe and it was a hit.  This is our masterpiece at the banana stage.  I knew that once it was coated in a blanket of meringue, it wouldn't look as pretty in a photograph.  So here it is so far: Nilla wafers, homemade vanilla pudding and bananas.

Our dear friends, Melanie and Jon (who now live in Birmingham, Alabama) wanted us to experience true southern hospitality during our stay with them.  They decided to throw a dinner party, serve "bar-b-que" (which means bar-b-qued pork in Alabama) and asked their friends to bring a southern dish to pass.  I tried sweet tea, fried okra, fried green tomatoes and homemade peach ice cream...and then banana pudding! 

What a night!  It was all delicious, of course, but what I loved most was seeing the smiles, hearing the stories and feeling so welcome.

It is a big deal when a friend moves far away.  You call.  You write.  And you can only hope that they will make friends as nice as these.  Good job, Alabama.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

City Series, Birmingham, Alabama: Art on the Rocks

"Love the cigar box purse."  This was the first thing said to me when I arrived in Alabama, and I appreciated it!

My husband and I had driven from Atlanta to Birmingham in time to meet our friends (Melanie and Jon) at "Art on the Rocks," a self-described food/art/drinks/music/gallery tour event at the Birmingham Museum of Art.  

While we were waiting out front for our friends, a super-stylish guy gave me the compliment about my cigar box purse as he and his friends walked by.  I don't know about you, but a fashion compliment from a stranger always makes me feel like I am doing something right.

When we went inside, we started with drinks and appetizers in the presence of a large-scale installation of Chihuly glass called "Birmingham Persian Wall."  You can see it in the photo above - it's gorgeous!  Then we wandered down the hall to another open space in the gallery, tried more appetizers (fried okra!) and peeked in the museum store.  Then it was upstairs to see the museum's extensive Wedgewood collection.  We ended the night by listening to live music in the outdoor sculpture garden on a beautiful (but humid) Alabama night.  

For my first night in Alabama, how did I like it?  
5 stars! 

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

City Series, Birmingham, AL: Pepper Place Farmers Market

So beautiful!  I love going to the Farmer's Market and was happy when Melanie suggested we visit Pepper Place Saturday Market, an open market in Birmingham, Alabama that combines produce vendors, arts & crafts booths, and live music.  I thought this display of tomatoes and peppers was gorgeous and asked permission to photograph some of their "edible art."  Fantastic!

In and around Pepper Place are wonderful "bricks & mortar" retail shops selling antiques (King House Antiques), furniture and design pieces (Atmosphere Home Essentials) and garden essentials (Wildflower Design).  These are the kinds of stores that make you want to rush home and change everything.  I was inspired and impressed. 

If you ever get the chance to visit this top notch Saturday market, make sure you allow enough time to shop for food and furniture!

Monday, July 11, 2011

City Series: Birmingham, AL, Beer Selection

Isn't this a cute way for a restaurant to show its beer selection?  This quick and quirky post starts off my "City Series" on Birmingham, Alabama. 

I was so happy when I realized that I could extend my trip in Atlanta long enough to tack on a weekend trip to Birmingham to see my friends, Melanie and Jon.  We spent a glorious weekend seeing some sights, making a traditional recipe and meeting their friends.  It was fantastic - I'll tell you all about it this week.

But for now, take a moment to admire the creativity of iCantina's beer list.  I had a delicious lunch of spicy shrimp quesadillas (shown above) and loved every bit of the restaurant's kooky interior (wax-covered drip bottle candles, Day of the Dead murals and more).  If you find yourself at Pepper Place Farmer's Market on a steamy Saturday, duck into iCantina for a cool and satisfying lunch.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Borner Vegetable Shredder

"Eat your vegetables."  I am finding this directive even easier now that I have a German vegetable shredder.

I absolutely love my Borner Roko Vegetable Shredder or "Thin Julienne Cutter".  After a lifetime of soggy zucchini discs cooked in water, this little kitchen tool has breathed new life into a classic garden staple. 

After grating the zucchini up and down the special blades (with an easy swish-swish), you will have a gorgeous pile of shredded zucchini.  The amount shown in the bowl is from one normal-size zucchini.  I ended up shredding three zucchini and sauteed them with a little butter and salt and it was out of this world.  What a side dish!

I think that I am overly happy about this discovery because we have 6 very healthy zucchini plants in our garden this year and I can see the writing on the wall.  I am going to be cooking a lot of zucchini this Summer and there is only so much Zucchini Bread I can bake and give away.  But with this little tool, I am ready!

(Please note that if you are shopping for this item, you will also need to get the Food Safety Holder, which is sold separately.)

Friday, July 8, 2011

Antique Roses

I think the idea of antique roses is so romantic!  This cluster is part of a small hedge that my mom estimates to be almost 100 years old.  We have some old photos of the cottage (built in 1925) and I think I have seen these roses in it!

It seems silly, but ever Summer when they bloom we rejoice that they have lived another year.  We don't really tend them - a little dead heading now and then and some fertilizer, but that's all.  And they are strong and as healthy as if we just put them in.  Love it!

Do you have any plants (or sentimental trees) that have graced your property for a long time?  Doesn't it feel good to know that they will probably be there long after we're gone? 

I tell you, Mother Nature knows what she's doing. 

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Music Case

Can you see what I have been up to?  I've made myself a custom iPod Nano case.  My Nano is light-years from the latest incarnation of music-on-the-go, but it serves me perfectly well.  It is full of the music I love and lets me escape into familiar rhythms and lyrics whenever my mind needs a rest.

My biggest problem with having a small Nano, was that I couldn't keep track of it easily.  When I was on an airplane and I wanted to listen to music, the device was hard to manage and often slipped off the tray table or my lap.  I decided the solution was to make a hanging case for it.

I used an office supply store retractable name badge holder and fashioned a narrow sleeve out of a plastic-coated map (to support my travel theme), lined it with felt (to cushion the Nano) and sewed it together.  I used a hole punch to make the opening for the name bag clasp.  By trimming the excess off with pinking shears, I had a pretty finished edge.  Voila!  The construction is so simple, there is no need for a pattern or tutorial.  Just layer the map and felt and sew - just use a sturdy needle (like one for jeans) to help ease through the layers. 

Now when I travel, I can clip the name badge holder to the "seat pocket in front of me" (or to a beach tote, car pocket, bicycle basket) and my Nano is safe and easily within reach.  When I pack up and move on, I just clip it to my pants pocket and I know exactly where my music is until I deplane and can get organized again.

I hope this simple (but super cute) craft inspires you to fashion your own mini music case. 

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

My Own Giverny

Would you believe I found my own little Giverny just minutes from our cottage?  I left Glen Arbor, Michigan after a wonderful visit with a friend and was driving north on M-22 when I noticed that the pond I love (that appears in the woods next to the road) was flecked with white spots.  

I pulled over to the side of the road, gambling that the white spots were water lilies and I was right!  What really made me happy was the Impressionistic reflections on the water that look so much like Monet's waterlilies.  Isn't it gorgeous?  What you see above is an unaltered photo -  it looked exactly like that to my eye.

I can only wonder how many artists will be inspired when they find this little piece of heaven by the side of the road.  Are you inspired?  As for myself, I can hardly wait to get to Michaels Craft and buy some canvas and paints!

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Vacation Pictures

How's this for capturing a quintessential Fourth of July moment?

Taking great vacation photographs often means removing yourself from the heart of the action.  Instead of sitting on the blanket, I chose to sit above and behind my friend's children so that I could get a few vacation pictures for her.  You may miss a few minutes of interaction, but in the end you'll be glad to have photographs that will last a lifetime.

You can read my thought-process below for this photograph, and perhaps consider these tips when taking your own vacation pictures:
  • Light - By staying in the shade, I let the "spotlight" of natural sun be on my subjects
  • Angle - Timing is everything when taking a picture.  When I arrived at the parade, I could see that capturing the boys waving at the floats would be darling.  By keeping myself at an angle to my subjects (instead of sitting directly behind them) I had more chances to get this firetruck as it approached.  I was able to take 3 photos just like this, with the only difference being where the firetruck is in the frame.  Later (when the parade was over and I had time to evaluate) I could choose to keep the picture where all the elements looked the best.
  • Secrecy - Once the boys realized that I was taking their picture, they turned around a lot to see what I was up to.  If you decide what photo you want (first lick of an ice cream cone, kids jumping off the dock), don't announce your intention.  You might miss out on capturing a perfectly natural moment.
  • Determination - Just do it! Bring your camera along and grab pictures when you can.  If you think about constructing the perfect shot too much, you'll miss out on some really good ones.  Just always take your camera with you and enjoy!

Monday, July 4, 2011

Watermelon Gazpacho

HAPPY 4th of JULY!

I hope that you are enjoying this gorgeous day.  I made a batch of Watermelon Gazpacho to help supplement lunch at the cottage over the holiday weekend and it was delicious.  I thought that you might want to make and serve this as a cool lunch option on a hot Summer day.

Watermelon Gazpacho

Puree chunks of fresh seedless watermelon (about 1/2 of it) in a food processor.  Pour into a large bowl.  Puree 1/2 yellow pepper, 1 nectarine, 1 tomato and a few pieces of onion.  Add to watermelon puree.  Chop into a small dice the following ingredients: watermelon cubes (taken from remaining watermelon half), 1/2 yellow pepper, 1 whole red pepper, a little onion and 1 nectarine.  Add 1 cup of ginger ale, the juice from half a fresh lime and a tablespoon or two of honey.  Add more ginger ale, lime and honey to taste.  Stir and then chill.  Serve cold.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Pear in a Bottle

This is going to be way better than a message in a bottle!  I am experimenting with growing a real pear inside an empty bottle and I feel fairly certain it will work!

Inspired by a local winery that makes and sells pear brandy (with a real pear floating in the bottle), I am trying to grow a pear inside this bottle over the Summer.   My parents have a pear tree at the cottage and my dad figured out how to attach the bottle to the tree with a bent wire wrapped around the bottle and then made into a hook to suspend from a nearby branch - it's genius!  If you look closely, you can see the small pear growing inside the bottle, just below the wire wrap. 

When the pear is full grown and ripe, I will pull on the stem and let the pear be "picked," yet remain in the bottle.  Then I will fill the bottle with my own homemade Pear Brandy.  When it is time to harvest and decant, I will show you my progress and publish my pear brandy recipe.  I can't wait to see how it turns out. 

Friday, July 1, 2011

Garden Art

The garden stores are full of garden art - reflecting balls, statues and the like.  But my tastes run toward adding more natural objects to add interest in a garden.  Can you see the birch branch leaning on the brick wall?  I found in on a walk near the cottage and brought it home to add a little texture.  

A few years ago, I planted a climbing hydrangea and placed a small dark green tuteur around it for support.  It is finally "taking hold" and showing some interest in climbing, so I have coaxed the longest runner off of the top of the tuteur and over to the birch branch.  My hope is that it will continue up onto the wall (and beyond) with some garden clips and ties.

I'm not sure if it translates in this photo, but the white birch looks beautiful in contrast to the mulch, green leaves and dappled light.  *sigh* Summer is here and I love it.