Friday, December 30, 2011

City Series, Houston: Ninfas

I was so glad to be able to visit the original Ninfa's on Navigation in Houston.  I love fajitas and Mama Ninfa is created with bringing the popular dish to the public by first serving fajitas in her restaurant more than twenty years ago.

Everything was outstanding.  The food, the service, the atmosphere.  I can still recall how delicious the handmade tortillas were and I definitely ate my weight in chips and salsa that night, I couldn't help it! 

Thursday, December 29, 2011

City Series, Houston: Ima Hogg

While I was in Houston, I wanted to visit Ima Hogg's famous estate. I made it as far as the gardens when I realized that it was closed early that day because of a "Candlelight Tour" scheduled for that evening.

I really wanted to see the art, furniture and style of this icon Houstonian. And the fact that she rose above her comical name (and was said to have signed her first name illegibly) makes me like her even more. I enjoyed seeing a bit of her gardens on this chilly Houston day and promised myself to come back when the azaleas are blooming and I can wander around inside for as long as I want.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

City Series, Houston: British Isles

And these are just the teapots!  Have you ever fallen for a place online and were then able to visit it "in person" later? 

I found British Isles online when I was searching for more tin plates, like the ones I bought at Windsor Castle.  Voila!  I found the plates and when they shipped I noticed that the business was actually a bricks and mortar store in Houston.  I go to Houston, I thought, and I put it on my list.

Well the "real" store exceeded my expectations and my sister-in-law recalls me saying, "Just to be clear, I want to stay 9 more days, just in this store, so that I can look at everything."  Ha!

British candy, English tea, Scottish sausages, paper goods, sweaters, is amazing.  Just look at this selection of tea and biscuits!
 I want to England and to British Isles in Houston.  What a delight!

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

City Series, Houston: Criossant Brioche

Ooh la la.  Take me for a lunch inspired by France and I am happy!  When shopping in Rice Village, we only had to read the sign "Croissant Brioche" to know that we were destined to have our lunch there.

Quiche, jambon et fromage on a baguette, fresh green salads with nut-oil vinaigrette - we were in heaven.  We could choose anything from the case to accompany our entree and I was completely happy with this luscious apple pastry.  Bon appetit!

Monday, December 26, 2011

City Series, Houston: Restoration Hardware

These days not a lot of retail stores can make me say, "Wow."  The economy just hasn't been conducive for lavish build outs anymore.  So when I was visiting family in Houston, my sister-in-law said that a friend suggested she take me to the new "Highland Village Restoration Hardware."  Okay, I said, but we do have Restoration Hardware at home...

I had no idea what I was in for.  Hands down the most spectacular retail setting I have seen in years.  An 3-story retail mansion designed to show you just how beautiful real life can be.  The gray-on-taupe-on-cement coloring embraces the very same color scheme Martha Stewart started trumpeting years ago and that's okay.  It is gorgeous.

The photo above shows a lavish RH bedroom as you would see it in a furniture store - every pillow, lamp and sheet all tucked in its place.  This isn't the kind of store you pick up and carry your purchases around.  Here you're assisted by an iPad-toting salesperson who clicks and confirms your every wish electronically.
Have a chateau that you need to fill?  Above is the perfect tufted couch for twenty of your closest friends to relax on.  Can you believe the scale of this piece?  Everything is bigger in Texas, that's for sure.  But I love it!    

And the crowning glory of this building is the 3rd floor greenhouse/sun room (with tent-like shades on the enormous windows to shield clients from the sun) that highlights outdoor seating, offers custom floral and succulent arrangements and has doors leading out to a rooftop living space.  I can only imagine the glorious special events that the company can host here.  It's genius.

If you are ever within driving distance of "The Gallery" at Restoration Hardware (Los Angeles and Houston), be sure to visit this stellar example of grand design - it will not disappoint.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Christmas in Vienna

That's what my Christmas wrapping theme feels like to me: Christmas in Vienna.  The gilding, the classical music, the fine china - can you see what I mean?

I accomplished it by choosing wrapping papers in cream and gold, photo-coping vintage sheet music to wrap extra special packages and by placing fancy pipe cleaner snowflakes under the tree to add depth and interest. 

The china?  In this photo, you can see one of two new tin plates that are reproductions of famous British china patterns.  I bought them to add to my collection while I was in Houston and stuck them under the tree as soon as I arrived home.  It is just the kind of thing Santa would bring me.  He knows good design when he sees it.  Merry Christmas!   

Friday, December 23, 2011

Vintage Shiny Brite Tree

After a year of collecting, my (primarily) "Shiny Brite" Christmas tree is ready for display!  I love these classic American ornaments from the 40's and 50's and have had fun scouring flea markets and antique stores for just the right mix.  I've loaded the branches with as many ornaments as I could and I just love it.

These ornaments are the small and delicate, each is about the size of a small plum.  I love how the bright colors, stripes and shapes catch the light and give the tree depth.  I made a raspberry pique tree skirt with a pom-pom edge and it highlights the pink in the tree perfectly. 

My little vintage tree turned out exactly as I hoped it would - the perfect way to showcase my collection.  Now imagine Bing Crosby singing, "White Christmas" and it will be like you're right here with me.

Merry Christmas!  

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Holiday Luncheon

I hosted my mom and her sister (my aunt, Carol) for a Christmas lunch this year - doesn't the table look pretty?  The dishes were my grandmother's (their mother's) and is known as "Jewel" by Spode.

I layered a red and green plaid tablecloth (by Tag) with coordinating cloth napkins, green-handled silverware (similar to this) and used my little pale green Christmas tree as the centerpiece.

I love this little tree because it is loaded with vintage-style cooking implements.  Whisks, potato mashers, rolling pins and cookie cutters.  It is so "me" and looks perfect surrounded by a little town of green and white houses.

After soup and salad, we ended our meal with a chocolate "Home For The Holidays" cake served on a silver platter with homemade butter cream snow drifts.  So cute! 

In the hustle bustle of the holidays, nothing is better than enjoying a quiet lunch with family.  I wish you many meals like this in 2012. 

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Festive Cakes

When my friend called me for directions to our "Euchre Night," she asked what I was bringing.  It was a holiday-themed card party and she was curious to hear what I was up to.

I told her that I was making a cake, but that it was less about the cake and "All about the stencil."  Can you blame me?  Look at this masterpiece!  Anything that can look this good just by shaking powdered sugar on it, is a dream come true.

The stencil is by Martha Stewart and you can get one here.  I used a yellow box cake mix and made homemade chocolate butter cream icing.

1/2 cup (1 stick) butter 
2/3 cup HERSHEY'S Cocoa
3 cups powdered sugar
1/3 cup whole or 2% milk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Melt butter. Stir in cocoa. Alternately add powdered sugar and milk, beating to spreading consistency.  Add additional milk, if needed to be spreading consistency. Stir in vanilla.  Spread on cake smoothly.  Put in refrigerator for a while to let the icing set, this allows the stencil to be placed on the icing, sprinkled with powdered sugar, and then lifted gently away, leaving a gorgeous image.  Voila!

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Barefoot Contessa (Ina Garten) in London

Tah-dah!   The shops and spots from Ina's trip to London are listed here.  The "Barefoot in London" episode of Ina Garten's Barefoot Contessa television special has created a lot of interest for foodies around the world.  If you have been searching for a list of places she visited, you can find it here.  Enjoy!

  • La Fromagerie - bacon sandwiches

  • William Curley Chocolatier - chocolate lollipops with fruit and nuts

  • Ottolenghi - a Middle Eastern specialty food shop - cheese straws and sliced potatoes)

  • Harwood Arms gastro pub - Ploughman's Lunch (lincolnshire poacher cheese, keens cheddar, pork pie, potato bread, walnut bread, fresh radish, celery, carrots, apple, 7 min eggs, apple chutney and piccalilli relish)

  • Borough Market was toured by Tom Parker Bowles

  • William Yeoward - placemats, glassware, holiday tablescapes

  • I blogged about my visit to La Fromagerie here.  And you can read about additional locations I loved in England by clicking the "London" (and "England") links in my City Series section in the blog sidebar.  

    I am an author, blogger and candy-lover that writes about things that bring people delight - explore my other 1,600 original blog posts and find delight. 

    Monday, December 19, 2011

    Vintage Christmas Cards

    One of my favorite things to scout for at flea markets and antique shows are vintage Christmas cards.  Remember when I made small pillows out of the image from this card?  It became the perfect hostess gift for me to bring to holidays parties.  When my friends look at a sea of wine bottles and candy tins left behind at their party, I want them to see a gift that was made especially for them.  It's the little things, right?

    This card has three pages that fold to create a 3-dimensional view of "dashing through the snow in a one horse open sleigh."  Don't you love it?  It is signed "Earl, Pearl and family, 1952" and has the music score to Jingle Bells printed on the back, in case the whole scene inspires you to burst into song.

    The digital world is fine and bulk photo cards depicting the family is nice, but my heart loves a card that sums up the excitement of coming home for the holidays.

    Friday, December 16, 2011

    Christmas Heirlooms

    I learned a great lesson about love, collecting and the passing on of heirlooms this year, and now is the perfect time to share.

    This photo was taken (by me) at a different outdoor antiques fair, but I'll use it today to show you how vintage ornaments (usually $1-3) can be displayed for sale - in one layer, gently cushioned in tissue.

    On the day of this story, the ornaments that caught my eye were in an open, unmarked box.  I wandered down the series of tables to the vendor, a quiet woman in her late sixties, and asked her how her ornaments were priced.  
    "$16 each.  But that's because these are the real-deal made-in-Germany blown-glass ones from the 1940's."
    "How nice," I said, "they are beautiful, but that is a little too much for me. Thank you, though," and I started walking back toward my husband, who happened to be in the direction of the ornament box.  She followed and when she got to the display, she stopped and started talking to me about vintage ornaments in general.  I responded with, "It was this pale pink one that caught my eye."

    "Oh that one was my mother's, here, you can have it," she said lifting the ornament from the box.

    What?  Why would she give it to me?  What was happening?  Then I really heard what she was saying as she walked back to her tissue and bags.  Yes, there was mention of her dog that had been getting into her tree;  he even tried to chew one lately.  But she also said, "I don't have any kids" to me...twice. 
    When someone repeats something in the same few sentences, that is the real message and thank heaven I caught it.  This women had decided to "pass down" her mother's ornament to me.  By singling it out, I had unknowingly shown her that I would be a good steward for her treasure, and when she told me that it was her mother's she guaranteed that I would be extra careful when I put it away each year.

    The surprising thing is that I didn't cry on the spot, as I am now while I write this. 

    "Merry Christmas, dear woman, your heirloom is safe with me."

    Gingerbread Neighborhood

    Sometimes I wonder why I don't work in a bakery.  I would love love love to be able to pipe frosting on gingerbread houses all day.  I stopped in my tracks in the bakery section of Central Market in Houston when I saw this gingerbread neighborhood!  It was a sight to see.

    I'm convinced that I am genetically predisposed to love baking.  I get sentimental when the special displays are set up in the grocery store - candied orange peel, new cartons of baking powder, bars of baker's chocolate - "Hello, old friends!"

    I "collect" colored sugar and sprinkles like it was embroidery floss or watercolor paints.  Color is color and I have to have it, no matter the medium.  Do you fell this way?  Is your DNA coded for baking?

    Thursday, December 15, 2011

    Gingerbread Cookie Tin: Cute is Forever

    I have had this Gingerbread House cookie tin for at least ten years, maybe more.  But last night it single-handedly proved my theory that "Cute is Forever."

    I went to the Junior League of Birmingham's New Member cookie exchange with 3 dozen gingerbread men (yea!) and brought my gingerbread house tin as a means to carry the cookies I got at the exchange.  The girls like the gingerbread men alright, but it was this cute tin that got all of the attention.  When asked where I got it, I said that it had been at least 10 years and that I couldn't remember where I found it.  Then I added, "But cute is forever."
    ***Update: November 2013: Fancy Flours is NOW carrying this Gingerbread Cookie Tin!

    Now we can't buy everything we see, and I know that we can barely store what we have, but sometimes a standout item like this is too cute to pass up.  And every time you pull it out, you'll love it all over again.  When you work this hard on cookies, you need a worthy container. 

    Wednesday, December 14, 2011


    Isn't this a charming nativity?  My sister-in-law bought it in Mexico years ago and it has a special place on her fireplace mantle.

    I was struck at how the base color of the figures matches the bricks in her fireplace perfectly - it was meant to be.  Do you have a sentimental nativity?

    Tuesday, December 13, 2011

    Adorable Holiday Candy

    I was going for "cute" and got delicious too!  I was at the cake and candy supply store, happily spinning the rack of chocolate candy molds, when I saw this!  A plastic mold that makes 10 "house" chocolates per batch - adorable!

    I wanted to try making some simple chocolates to serve with coffee and cookies over the holidays.  I knew that Wilton made favored/colored chocolate wafers (or discs) that could be put in clear piping bags and melted in the microwave.  I wanted to make the house look "Colonial" so when I saw peanut butter discs at a Michaels Craft Store, my mind said "khaki!" - the perfect color of "siding" for my house.

    I used some dark chocolate discs that I had from another project and Voila! I have a super cute candy that tastes like a Reese's Peanut Butter cup.

    The candy you see here is from my first batch - there is not much of a learning curve, I'm happy to say.  The only change I need to make is to pipe less peanut butter into the house cavity so that it doesn't seep outside the lines of the house.

    • Use disposable plastic bags - you can microwave in them and toss them when you're finished
    • After the peanut butter is piped in, lightly "drop" or tap the mold to let any bubbles escape the chocolate.  Do the same after you pipe in the dark chocolate.
    • Allow chocolate to set before trying to unmold.  I put mine in the refrigerator for 5 minutes.  Gently twist the mold to release (similar to what you would do with an ice cube tray) and then tap and push on the back of the mold (face mold down onto wax paper-covered counter top) to encourage the chocolates to release.

    Monday, December 12, 2011

    Holiday Decorations

    So far, this is my favorite holiday light display. I was in Houston, Texas last week (stay tuned for a City Series on Houston after Christmas) and noticed so many kinds of Christmas decorations that I've never seen in Michigan.

    One grand display I saw was a neighborhood that had white lights strung along subdivision streets for what felt like a thousand feet! Hundreds of 4 foot high poles suspend strand after strand of small white lights. These poles are placed 6 feet apart and, when wrapped with white lights and connected, they create a rail of light that lines the street in mid-air. It is simply beautiful decoration that is easy for neighbors to participate in.

    The charming Christmas tree shown here wins my award for most creative.  This "tree" is made completely of lights! Solid strands of green lights are attached to the facade of a fireplace. Then multicolor lights become the ornaments and a red tube light represents the string of lights. Do you love it? I thought you would!

    Saturday, December 10, 2011

    Family Tree Ornaments

    My tradition of filling a "family tree" with Christmas ornaments that I've made from family photographs was mentioned in the Detroit Free Press newspaper today.  You can see the article here

    The Family Tree has fabric photo ornaments that are printed on June Tailor Inkjet Fabric Sheets. Then I sew them to a coordinating fabric, "pink" the edges (create zigzag with scissors) and glitter the wedding bouquet or hair bow in the photo. I tuck them into the branches, or they can be hung from ribbon. I also hang old family photos framed in small glass picture frames.  I created labels for the back of each ornament to identify the person and their connection to us.

    As for the article, I love having a photo credit in a major newspaper (front page, above the fold, no less!) as well as being mentioned in the same breath as Katie Brown, another lifestyle expert and Michigan-native.  I have long-admired her collection of housewares and the natural aesthetic in her designs.

    Want to see the entire Family Tree?  I thought so...

    Thursday, December 8, 2011

    Butterflies on Christmas Tree

    Want to add a little whimsy and magic to your Christmas tree? How about A few glittered butterflies hovering around the branches?

    These 1 inch craft store butterflies were dyed another color and I simply coated them with craft glue and doused them with magenta glitter. When you are in the store, choose the ones that come on a thin wire. Once the glue has dried, you can wrap the wire around a branch and let them hover. I wouldn't do too many, just enough to catch someone's eye. Three sets of two would be plenty.

    I also wanted to show you a picture of the entire tree and how I like to decorate the tree emphasizing jewel tones.  What do you think?

    Tuesday, December 6, 2011

    Frosting and Fellowship

    Needless to say, I had fun fun fun at this year's "Frosting and Fellowship." My scrapbook-loving friend, Angie, invited me to attend the second annual cookie decorating extravaganza with her last week. Parking was a breeze as I was the only one registered for the event! You see, Angie and I tend to name our activities and Frosting and Fellowship (an offshoot of Glue and Gab) was really just a quiet afternoon of cookie decorating with Angie and her youngest son.

    After learning royal white icing techniques, Angie wanted to teach me the "pipe the exterior, brush on the interior" method of frosting cookies with royal white icing. My birthday gift in August was new piping bags, meringue powder and a rainbow of Wilton icing dyes - 12 colors to match every holiday whim.

    Monday, December 5, 2011

    Cookie Cutter Find

    What a find. All these cookie cutters for just 25 cents - no joke! I was at a trusty church rummage sale and I noticed that they had bagged antique cookie cutters into random sets. I saw this grouping and thought: a giant turkey (that would make a great crust cut out to bake on top of a pumpkin pie), Texas (where relatives live), a cow (my mom loves cows) - Sold!

    I'm sure by now you know about my cookie cutter collection - I am pushing 275! I love them and my collection keeps growing. I arrived home last week to find a padded envelope in my mailbox. My dear friend, Barb, found an antique "Santa" cookie cutter that she knew I had to have. Isn't that the nicest thing ever? Thank you, Barb. 276

    Saturday, December 3, 2011

    Cranberry Jello

    My go-to J-ello recipe at the holidays is the "cranberry-cream cheese mold" on the Kraft foods website. You can mold it in a Bundt pan for a decorative presentation (so pretty!) and it always goes quick on a holiday buffet. A tip: make sure your cream cheese is at room temperature when you beat it into the jello, otherwise the two ingredients won't blend as easily.

    Why am I showing you a box of cranberry Jell-O? Because they sell out this time of year. If you are at all thinking about giving this recipe a try, buy the Jell-O when you see it at the store. The next time you shop, it may be out of stock. Just a friendly tip from a Jell-O devotee.

    Friday, December 2, 2011

    Advent By Candlelight

    Do you love it? My mom and I were hosting a table for Advent By Candlelight at our church one year and she came up with idea to spray pineapples gold and then insert pearl-tipped pins into the fruit in a pattern. We decorated 3 pineapples that way and used them as a centerpiece on our table. It was gorgeous!

    To me, the gilded pineapples came to represent the crowns of the three kings. If you want to try this project yourself, timing is everything. Fresh pineapples will last about a week once they are sprayed and decorated - be sure to pick pineapples that are firm, not soft. We kept our masterpieces in a box (out of reach of any animals) in our garage where it was cold until it was time to display them. We used gold spray paint and pearl-tipped pins straight pins from the craft store.

    Thursday, December 1, 2011

    Advent Calendars

    Today is the day!  It is December 1st and it's time to open Door #1 on your advent calendar.  

    As an "Architect of Delight," I believe in looking for beauty in everyday moments.  Anticipation is a big part of enjoying a wonderful life...not only do you enjoy what you are looking forward to when it happens, you also savor the planning and preparation involved in getting there.

    Advent calendars are a perfect example of this.  They give you a little lift every day, inspiring you to enjoy all the days leading up to the glorious celebration of Christmas.

    Do you have an advent calendar?  I saw some cute ones at a local bookstore last night.  If you are willing to miss the first few days of "window opening," I encourage you to look at the beautiful selection available online at Blumchen.