Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Custom Printed Ribbon: A Delight on New Year's Eve

I am so excited! I got an Epson Ribbon Printer for Christmas!  My mind is swimming with all of the things I can do with custom ribbon.  I want to use my initials like a monogram for a bookmark. I want to try some with my name and cell number to tie on my luggage. I'm going to have so much fun! Happy New Year, indeed.  

Sunday, December 29, 2013

Jewelry Management: Snapware

I am organizing this weekend and when I was in Joann Fabric, I noticed that all of their Snapware storage containers for "ribbon" are half off.  

These clear Snapware containers are the ones that I use for my Jewelry Management (click the link to read more). I highly recommend buying yourself a few to organize your necklaces, bracelets and baubles, oh my. They are great when you want to take your jewelry on the road on vacation, or when you need a system to keep off season pieces under control in your closet.  I absolutely love them.

Friday, December 27, 2013

Fortune Cookie Slip Garland

I feel really happy that I came up with a cute way to craft with my hard-to-explain collection of fortune cookie slips.  Call me superstitious, but I have never thrown away a cookie fortune that was positive.  After dinner at a Chinese restaurant (or whenever we have take out), I always drop my fortune in my purse and then later stash it in an odds and ends drawer in my craft room.

Tonight when my friend Angie was over, I brought out the the drawer because I was looking for things to embellish some notecards with.  After an hour of making one-of-a-kind notecards, I started reading the pile of fortunes I had amassed.  I knew I couldn't throw them away, but what could I do with them?

A paper garland made the most sense.  Angie offered me the use of her 1 1/2" circle hole punch and I punched circles out of two coordinating double-sided papers that I happened to have.  The circles would be the perfect shape to highlight the little paper slips.  Then I threaded my sewing machine with pink thread and I sewed myself a 12 foot paper garland.  Love love love.
Look how cute it looks! Okay, I agree that my office is a little overwhelming and a fortune cookie slip garland isn't exactly what the room needs, but I love it just the same.  And this is where THIS woman creates.  I am sure that I will find a better place for it, but I wanted to show it to you right away.

This garland ticks off two of my most important criteria for crafting: beautiful and interesting.  The fortunes are inspirational and they give me a wonderful feeling of success moving forward.

Thursday, December 26, 2013

Marshmallow Snowstorm: A Christmas Vignette

I am enjoying a quiet snowy morning.  There are snow flurries outside and a considerable marshmallow snowstorm has come to my little village indoors. Can you see the skaters on my mirror pond?  They are hoping for a big mug of cocoa this afternoon.  Merry Christmas!

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Christmas Eve and One Creature is Stirring...

It is Christmas Eve and one creature IS stirring! It's me in the kitchen stirring a bowl of my grandmother's Christmas cookie frosting.  I have an entire batch to frost for tonight.  In my family, the big celebration is on Christmas Eve. So today is the big day!

I wish you a very Merry Christmas and the happiest of holidays.  xo Anne

Friday, December 20, 2013

Bonne Maman makes Beautiful Jam Jars turned Bead Organizers

Lucky for me, my best friend's husband devours a jar of Bonne Maman preserves every week! She knows that I like to paint jam jars, so she asked if I wanted her empty jars before they hit the recycling bin.  Do I?!

I asked her to save the lids for me too, as I knew they would make beautiful storage containers. These beautiful glass jars would be perfect as bead storage for my jewelry making!  

It feels so good to walk into my craft room and see the abundance of components neatly organized (and dust free) on my shelf.  Doesn't it look pretty?  Thank you, Kim, for helping me to up-cycle!

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Gingerbread House

As you know, I love color and sugar.  It is those two forces that pull me toward the Gingerbread House kits.  I used to make the walls and roof myself with a 2-sided cast iron mold. It really is wonderful. Each side features a different style - log cabin vs. traditional.  So cute!  But...

Time is at a premium these days and I can't resist the perfectly smooth walls of a gingerbread house kit.  Make sure to buy one with a base to fit the walls into (it helps to stay together while drying) and pre-mixed royal icing that you use as the glue for the walls and decorations.

I've made houses that I've loved more, but I think my little house looks sweet with a "candy buttons on paper tape" roof, don't you?  Maybe next year you will fit in a little project like this.  They make a fun centerpiece and smell so good!

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Santa on the Train

The gifts are on the way!  Do you feel like this little Santa, whirling through town with your sleigh full of packages?

I am not sure how I managed to snap this photograph - look at how crisp Santa and his presents are!  And the rest of the photo is an appropriate blur to replicate the rush-rush of this holiday season.  

This train set is part of my friend Pam's magnificent holiday display.  As you make your way across town this week, drive carefully and think of yourself as this little Santa and listen for the sound of a train whistle announcing the arrival of all these Christmas presents - Choo choo!

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Chocolate Cottage Cake After a Buttercream Snowfall

Today, I'm baking this darling cottage cake.  I am hosting our annual family tea for my aunt, cousins and sisters-in-law and I thought that a chocolate cottage after a buttercream snowfall would be the perfect dessert.

The cake pan is called Gingerbread House and it is made by Nordic Ware.  You can find it online (the link is above) or in many specialty cake supply stores.  I just love it.

My go-to cake for this pan is Betty Crocker's Super Moist Cake Mix in Chocolate Fudge.  It fills the pan, bakes evenly and has a wonderful chocolate flavor.  The buttercream is the classic butter/powdered sugar/vanilla recipe.

Monday, December 16, 2013

12 Days of Christmas: Treebeards' Butter Cake Bites

These adorable 12 Days of Christmas cupcake picks made one of my favorite cookies dessert look extra special. This is a rich and delicious bar cookie that is a wonderful addition to any cookie platter.

I made my euchre group pretty happy when I showed up with a batch of these Treebeard's Butter Cake Bites.  The recipe was first published in the Houston Chronicle years ago and is all over the internet since then, so I feel okay sharing it with you here. The credit goes to Treebeards!

Treebeards’ Butter Cake

1 (2-layer cake size) package yellow cake mix (Pillsbury’s Super Moist)
1 egg 
1 stick unsalted butter, melted

8 oz. cream cheese, softened
1 tsp. vanilla
3 eggs, whole
1 pound powdered sugar

Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Spray a 13-by-9-by-2-inch glass pan with Baker's Joy (nonstick spray with flour).

Mix one beaten egg with dry cake mix and melted butter to a moist dough consistency and press mixture evenly into pan.

In a clean bowl, beat cream cheese with 3 eggs and vanilla. Slowly beat in confectioner’s sugar until smooth. Pour batter over crust. Bake for 35 to 40 minutes.  (Watch carefully so crust does not get too brown. The cheese mixture should sink into the center somewhat, leaving a firmer crust around the edges. Cool, dust with powdered sugar, cut into squares and serve.

Source:  Houston Chronicle

Friday, December 13, 2013

A Beautiful Bed - add your own touch to linens and more

I was wandering Homegoods with my mom, telling her that I wanted to change my sheets/duvet/pillowcases to give our bed a more Swedish look and highlight my cane bed.  I was admiring red and white sheet sets in the store and mooning about design icon Katrin Cargill (who I met in 2005!), Swedish-style in a bedroom and linens.  Then she said...I might have something.

Look what she found in her linen closet.  She'd given away the duvet long ago, but she had the top sheet, dust ruffle, 2 King cases and 2 European shams in this beautiful black and cream toile. I love it! I think I'll be making myself a monogram pillow this January.

I had the cream matelasse coverlet and I dolled up 2 plain cream pillowcases with by sewing on a band of black and cream calico fabric.  Cute, eh?  

I have read studies that show that walking into your bedroom and seeing a "made bed" is good for you, literally.  It somehow show peace and order in your life and allows you to rest more easily.  It doesn't sound very scientific, I know, but it makes sense to me.  So, if a made bed it good for you, a beautiful bed must be even better!  Sleep tight!

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Wood Veneer Postcard Makes an Interesting Winter Display

The top of my piano looks beautiful in cream, gold, sage and blue, don't you think?  A collection of meaningful items all work together and give the eye a rest from the bright reds and jewel tones of Christmas.  My dried hydrangeas reside in an empty water bottle I brought back from England - remember
The star of this vignette is this tiny woodland scene.  It is actually a card made by a German company called Finkbeiner and found it at Downtown Home and Garden in Ann Arbor, Michigan.  It is sold with an envelope and you can mail it! When you are ready to put it on display, you gently bend the wood veneer and fit the tab into the slot.  I love how delicate the cutwork is and it really draws your eye in.  I just re-watched the Shirley Temple movie, Heidi, and this could be the landscape leading up to Grandfather's cabin.
The fact that this display will look just as pretty in January is a bonus.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

DIY: High End Holiday: Golf Leaf Ornaments

I wanted the look of high-end, department store ornaments and I got it. My simple 3 item craft project turned out exactly as I had imagined.  I must have seen an ornament like this long ago, because when I found the gold leaf paint I knew exactly what I wanted to do.  I wanted an extra large glass ball painted solid gold at the top, moving down to brush marks and then onto no paint at all at the bottom, so the tree and lights would show through the glass. Pretty specific, huh?

I was able to find a set of four (4") clear glass ball ornaments at Micheal's craft store.  I used this brand of gold leaf paint and an inexpensive bristle brush, because I wanted to see the brush strokes.

The only instructions I can give you is that you dip the brush in paint and move it across the glass slowly and carefully.  I hung the painted ornaments in my laundry room to give them ample time to dry.  Then I put them on the tree and voila!  A fancy touch you can make yourself.  

I've seen many make-your-own ornament projects online lately and frankly, they look homemade.  This little beauty looks like it is right from an art gallery or high end department store.  

#michaels #DIY #christmasornaments #momentsofdelight #finddelight 

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Vintage Christmas Centerpiece

Ooh la la! I love to showcase different ways to display vintage ornaments and this might be my new favorite!  I turned a simple glass cloche (you can find them reasonably at the store, Home Goods) upside down, gently placed my vintage treasures inside, placed a kiwi green plate on top and holding both the plate and the cloche, slowly turned it right side up.

My ornaments are safe inside (They're dust free too!) and all I have to do is watch to make sure no one "lifts" the cloche up.  I hosted my book club this week and I placed this festive decoration on my kitchen island, surrounded by snack and sweets.  

This kind of decoration is beautiful and interesting.  In person, you can't help but admire all of the different colors and styles.  Do you remember the story of the pale pink ornament in the center?  Merry Christmas!

Monday, December 9, 2013

Advent By Candlelight inspiration

Advent by Candlelight is a lovely church service and dessert event arranged by a church during Advent.  The purpose is to offer a quiet evening of reflection and fellowship for the women of the congregation and community.

Our church has "table hostesses," who sign up to decorate a table, provide dessert and invite their church friends (and special guests from their lives) to sit with them at their Advent by Candlelight table.  When there are open spots at the tables of 8, the Advent by Candlelight coordinator fills the spots with church members interested in attending.  

Guests usually arrive around 6 pm, check in and receive a name tag and then congregate over punch and light refreshments as the hundreds of women arrive at the church and connect.  At 6:30, members and their guests are given a candle and program as they file into the sanctuary and take a seat.

A short service typically consists of a choral piece, inspirational readings, biblical text and the singing of hymns.  The candles are lit and the attendees file out in silence and reflection.

The next 30 minutes or so are spent admiring the tables, all lit by candlelight. The creative table decorations are a fun outlet for the hostesses to inspire and delight.  Visual and edible decorations make everyone get into the holiday spirit.  

Every year, mom and I sit at a mother/daughter table with our friends from church.  This year we were the guests and were free to relax and enjoy the decorations of our hosts.  We sat at a darling Scandinavian-theme table of red and white.  There were birch coasters for the delicate metal candle stars; red striped ribbon tied on the napkins and paper stars scattered on the table.
There were tables with family heirlooms on display - look at this beautiful, what I believe to be German Pyramid, powered by candles.  
The Wise Men and Shepherds are on a wooden circle that is powered by the heat of the candles.  The fan on top turns and allows the procession to file past the nativity.  It is a work of art.
I love this next picture, framed so that you can see the candlelight from two tables.  This is the perfect occasion to use a candelabra. 
There is an inherent calm in a room filled with candlelight.  Everyone felt special and appreciated.  The hostesses did a wonderful job designing pretty tables.
A dreamy Winter Wonderland table hosted by a mother-daughter team, Micke and Linda.  I love their collection of churches.
Look at the roses in this elegant red and white table - this feels like a party!
I love the ring of Santas around this majestic gold bottle brush tree. It looks glorious.

What a night! I am proud to say that our table was a last to leave that night. We were talking and laughing far into the evening and we just kept our conversation going as we helped our hostess pack up the table.

Would you like to see some of the tables that my mom and I have decorated?
I hope these images inspire you to host your own Advent by Candlelight table next year.

This is our "Town with a Marshmallow Snowstorm" table.
This is our "Vintage Green & Red" table.
This is our "Gold Pineapple with Red Plaid" table.
And last year's "Vintage Ornament" table.  Such fun! I can't wait until next year!

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Gingerbread Ornaments

I have to show you this holiday tip.  You know that I love to make Gingerbread Men to hang on my Christmas tree, but not everyone has time for that.  Look what I found at Costco! Edible gingerbread ornaments that are ready to hang! 

They show them decorated, but I would hang them with a red and white check ribbon and leave it at that.  So cute and so festive.  Merry Christmas!

Saturday, December 7, 2013

Delightful Gift Under $35: Holiday Gift Guide

You can have a beautiful holiday, giving all of my favorite holiday gifts...all under $35.

The only gifts that make sense to me are those that you bought for a reason. I am known for stopping my family and friends in the middle of them tearing off the wrapping paper, to tell them a little something that will help them understand the inspiration for the gift.  I like presents that will improve the life of (and of course, delight) the recipient. Here are my suggestions for some products I love and why.  Hope this helps make your holiday shopping a tad easier. Ho ho ho!

For Your Mother, Father or Any Home Cook: Digital Meat Thermometer
I live by the dial with this handy digital thermometer that tells you exactly when your meats, roasts and chicken are perfectly cooked. You set the desired temperature and it will beep when it's reached.  This gadget puts people at ease, trust me.

For Those Who Love to Bake: Kitchen Aid Flex-edge Beater
I bought myself this wonderful rubber-edged mixing blade and I can't live without it.  Made by Kitchen Aid, so you know it fits, this item is like having a rubber spatula in the bowl whirling around with your ingredients.  My sugar/butter bases have never been so fluffy.

For Any Woman with a Pulse: Elf Makeup Collection
My heart pounds at the sight of color.  And I have a soft spot for anything that slides open/has secret compartments like a Barbie camper.  Everyone will have fun trying these flattering shades of eye makeup, blush and lip gloss.  It is just fun, and that's what gift-giving is about.

For Those Who Loves Paris: Paris: Delight in the City of Light by Anne Reeves 
I am tooting my own horn by suggesting my books, but girl-after-girl has told me how much they have loved dreaming about Paris through the pages of my modern coffee table book.  How could I not pass on the recommendation to you?

For Those Who Can't Live without their Gadgets: Waterproof Beachproof iPad case 
I love the idea that we can still go to the beach and read magazines, get messages and take picures safely with this case. Yes, I relax too, but this is a safe win/win for us technology lovers.

For Those Who Like To Be In The Know: Beekman 1802 Blaak Drizzle
My friends Josh and Brent of The Fabulous Beekman Boys have an amazing company that is changing the face of small business.  Their business is growing by leaps and bounds since they won the Amazing Race. I love everything they do, but Blaak Drizzle is my favorite product they make.  "Blaak Drizzle is a reduction of balsamic vinegar, figs and the the native elderberries that grow wild around Beekman 1802 Farm and all over New York state."  I use it in salad dressing, meat marinades, with a cheese plate.  I just love it and your friends will too.

For Someone Who Loves Inspiring Coffee Table Books: Finding Delight or Moments of Delight by Anne Reeves
I was told the other day by a reader that she leaves my books on her coffee table year round.  She loves how they look sitting out as modern coffee table books and she loves the content even more. If she likes them that much, I should recommend them to you, don't you think?

For Those That Love to be Organized: Susan Branch, Year of Notepads
Susan Branch is known for her delightful illustrations and books.  The note pad set I am recommending has one notepad for each month, with "August" at the top and whimsical drawings along the border.  The set also includes post-it notes.  This was the gift that was so successful that in the 2 Christmases since I gave it, my mom has found it on her own, bought it, brought it to my house, handed it to me and said "I want this again."  If that isn't an endorsement, I don't know what is.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Advent Calendar: Boxes Filled With Treasures

I was over at my friend Angie's house for one of our "Glue & Gab" sessions when I suddenly, I simply had to made an Advent calendar. We usually sit in her dining room with glue, paper and scissors and work on something that has been on our mind. Angie is a real scrapbooker, with supplies and technique on her side. She makes scores of beautiful memory books and has captured a lot of wonderful family moments on some oh-so-cute pages.

I am not a scrapbooker, but my love of paper and stickers runs deep.  When I was talking with Angie, I was reminded of the super cute Advent calendar that she made last year.  She said that if I was in the mood to make one, I could use her Cricut paper cutting machine.  It starts with a simple cardboard cubby made by Scrapbook Company "Close To My Heart."  Then you need to buy 15 sheets of coordinating scrapbook paper (a selection that is a little bit stiffer than traditional paper works best).  I cut each piece of 12 x 12 paper in half and fed them one-by-one into the Cricut, loaded with the "Artistic Cartridge."  The Artistic cartridge allows you to choose "3D box; size 2.5 inches.

After all of the boxes are cut out, you can fold them along the perforations/scores and then glue the flaps together with a glue stick to create the box.  I chose a variety of green papers and I just love how it turned out.  I decided not to number the boxes as it would interfere with the overall effect.  I have been having a lot of fun choosing the stickers to adorn each box.  You can see that I am still 3 stickers shy, but I couldn't wait any longer to show you - Advent has begun!  And these boxes are big enough to hold wonderful treats!

I saw Angie make her Advent calendar last December and percolated on how cute it was all year long.  I am showing you this project now, so that maybe next year will be your year!

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Baking Event: Christmas Cookies with Friends

Oh the grand plans we had for this event!  My friends and I were going to get ahead on our holiday baking.  It was to be a blitz of flour, sugar and salt.

I bought tons of ingredients, pulled out all of my sprinkles and made a pot of white bean chicken chili to bolster my friends after a long day at their real jobs.  

How did my first baking event go?  Well it wasn't a bake-tastrophe, but we didn't accomplish nearly what I thought we would. My three friends and I ate dinner together, talked all about the cookies we love and ended up with only 2 hours to actually mix and bake.  How did we think we could do this on a weeknight?   

Next year (yes, we've already decided to make it a tradition) we are going to pick at Saturday in November and really get to it.

The funny thing is that the one cookie we did mix and bake were so delicious that we ate them all.  The green "Spritz" trees were the best I've ever tasted. We mixed a double batch of this Almond Spritz recipe from Better Homes and Garden (add green food coloring to the dough) and used an electric cookie press, which was finicky, but effective, to press them out.

We had to press the button on the electric Spritz for just the right amount of time (experiment) to get a perfect cookie.  Once we mastered the timing, it was a breeze and we easily spritzed and baked 150 cookies.  Then we divided by 3 and packaged them in freezer Ziploc bags.  Then Dan and I ate or gave away most of our allotment.  These were so good I will make them again in the next week or so.

We also made to two batches of dough that we personalized with a variety of mix-ins.  The recipe can be made and frozen, then sliced and baked later.  Our base was Martha Stewart's basic vanilla dough.  The first batch was vanilla dough, so I added unsweetened coconut, white chocolate chips and dried cranberries.  I shaped the dough into a log and rolled it in large sugar crystals. Then I wrapped the log in waxed paper, slide it into a freezer bag and labeled it with the instructions (Slice and Bake at 350 degrees for 12-14 min.)  I can't wait to try them!

Our second batch of this dough we followed the direction in the recipe to customize it and make chocolate dough.  I had Valrhona cocoa powder on hand and we knew that it would make the very best chocolatey base. I had a lot of choices, but settled on white chocolate chips.  These cookies should taste delicious - plus a chocolate cookie will add some variety the cookie plate. Yum.

So it is December 3 and I have 2 frozen doughs and a lot of Gingerbread men. Not nearly enough for all of the guests I am having over this season.  I'd been preheat the oven and get back to work!

Monday, December 2, 2013

Ribbon-Wrapped Wreath

A ribbon-wrapped wreath.  Say that 10 times fast!  My front door has a fresh coat of dark green paint and I wanted a bright and happy wreath in a contrasting color to really show it off.  Enter apple green.  I am drawn to apple green this season and when I came across this 1 1/2 inch apple green satin ribbon at Michaels Craft store, I knew it would be perfect.
I bought an 18" foam wreath form and 4 rolls of ribbon.  I secured the beginning and end of each roll onto the wreath with flat topped straight pins pushed directly into the foam.  It works like a charm.  The bow is made from one roll of ribbon, plus about half of another roll.  I tied the ribbon onto the bottom of the wreath with a simple knot and then tied two basic loop bows. Then I attached another piece of ribbon and tied another basic loop bow. I made sure to leave long ribbon tails hanging down.   

To finish the look, I used a short piece of ribbon to cover the series of knots (I placed it over the front and tied it gently behind), which makes the bow appear to be one complicated knot.  You too can make this easy but stylish holiday wreath in about 20 minutes.    

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Delightful Books To Give This Holiday Season

Gift giving hint: My books (Moments of Delight, Paris: Delight in the City of Light and Finding Delight) are all in stock and ready to ship (or be picked up) for holiday gift giving.  This month only, each book is $30 (purchased directly through me in blog sidebar. I'll credit the $5 after transaction). Oh, Santa!

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Happy Thanksgiving

My regal turkey - made with 2 packages of Marie Callender cornbread, held together with cream cheese frosting and perched in a dish of fresh cranberries. This homemade bird is perfect for any Thanksgiving celebrations.  Bravo to Nordic Ware for making a pan with so much spirit.  You can get yours here.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Christmas Village Inspiration

Is this the week you start decorating for the holidays?  Can you imagine having the vision to arrange a village that is this intricate?  Look at how the icy steps lead your eye from the children building a snowman at the bottom right, up past the Christmas carolers, on to the church and its nativity scene and then all the way up to the grand building that overlooks the city.  The display is enormous - this is just one section that I framed and photographed.  I just love it!

My friend's Aunt Pam is the artist extraordinaire that created this masterpiece. She and I see beauty in so many of the same things and when it comes to decorating for Christmas, she is a kindred spirit.  

For more than twenty years, Pam has been collecting buildings, townspeople, trees and ice rinks (many by Department 56) with the sole purpose of delighting the eye.  A display like this is meant to be seen and I am grateful that Pam allowed me to photograph it so that I could show you.  My picture above captures only one tenth of her display, which runs the entire length of her living room and is a multilevel masterpiece.
Now take a moment and study this second picture - the scene from a different angle.  If you look way to the top you will see the same grand building and the church just below it to the right...See?  That is the same area shown in the first photograph, just from farther away.  Now do you get a sense of the scale of her work?  I could stand here for hours and let my mind wander.  This is a different kind of story-telling, don't you think?  Where your mind is allowed to wander through each vignette, gleaning what it can from the visual clues.

In my mind, I walk around this magical little town.  I skate on the frozen pond and then buy hot chocolate in the candy store.  I always climb the steps to the greenhouse and walk inside to smell the humid air scented with potting soil. I always have fun and I never want to leave.  

Sometimes stories are best left in your imagination - you can add to them and change things around every time your mind wanders around a Christmas village. Thank you, Pam, for inspiring us all. 

Monday, November 25, 2013

Advent Calendars

You know that my brain go "tilt" whenever I see a house made of paper.  Add Christmas and chocolate into the mix and I swoon.  I'd like to present my Advent Calendar!  It is very similar to this one, if you'd like to order one for your holiday countdown. 

I must admit that I bought this paper advent house last year and never had a chance to "build it" (Put slot A into tab B), so it was a happy surprise yesterday when I opened my box of Christmas decorations.  I am December-ready.

There are little chocolates (the house is made in Germany) behind each numbered panel, so this year I plan to countdown to Christmas in the afternoon - the perfect time for a sweet treat.

This house was designed with thought and care.  The interior is printed with just as much detail as the exterior. You can peek in any window or door and see Santa hosting a party inside.  I love this kind of attention to detail. Bravo.  
I am going to place a few battery-operated votive candles inside to give my little house a cozy feel.  Have you ever had a 3D Advent calendar?  This might be a great year to try one.  Christmas is one month from today!

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Gingerbread House Cookie Tin Proves that Cute is Forever

(*I am reposting this because my favorite cookie tin (above) is now available at www.fancyflours.com! Get yours before they are gone!)

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. 

Friday, November 22, 2013

Soup Exchange: Homemade Tomato Soup with Croutons

There are a lot of reasons to love a positive, energetic and organized friend who loves to cook. On this particular day, my friend Kathryn's vision led a group of 14 women from our church to hold a "Soup Exchange."  The goal was to have homemade soup in our freezer to help each other have some "dinners up our sleeve" during the cold (and hectic) Winter months.  

Kathryn divided us into two groups of 7 and gave each of us (14) 32 ounce plastic containers.   Each participant was to bring 12 quarts of her favorite homemade soup (frozen) to Kathryn's house for a combination "Girl's Night Out" and "Soup Exchange" last Friday.  We were to keep 2 of the quarts at home for ourselves.

Daunting, right?  Making soup for an army was a big job, but luckily my soup could be made in one giant batch (the recipe x 5).  I relied on my trusty favorite, Classic Tomato Soup from Martha Stewart's Everyday Food and Dan kept walking into the kitchen saying "They are so lucky."  He loves this soup and knew that it would provide my friends with a nice cozy dinner.  

When I was at the grocery store the week of the exchange, I had a lightbulb moment when I saw some big loaves of day old French bread.  Croutons!  I bought and cubed the loaves and then tossed them in batches with a mixture of melted butter, olive oil and dried Herbs de Provence.  I baked them in a single layer on a cookie sheet for 30 minutes in a 300 degree oven until they were dry and crouton-like.  Each set of of my tomato soup came with a bag of fresh croutons.

The night of the exchange, I arrived with my frozen soup in a cooler and set them out on the table above, by the sign marked: Tomato - boy, was Kathryn organized! Then everyone in my group, systematically went around the table and took 2 quarts of each and put them back in our coolers.  I came home with: Asparagus Leek, Butternut Squash, Turkey Chili, Curried Carrot, Chicken Tortilla and Ajiaco (a Cuban soup of chicken and potato).  Neat, eh?

After our coolers were tucked back into our cars, we enjoyed a casual and relaxing dinner and conversation.  There were two big tables of women talking and laughing - you could just sense everyone's blood pressure going down.  

It wasn't easy to make a ton of soup, and it certainly wasn't easy for Kathryn to coordinate us all and then make us dinner!  But that is exactly my point. Some of the best things in life (friendship, community, family dinners) take effort. And it is the kind of effort that has lasting benefits.  I saw a few of the women at church a few days later and we hugged and chatted and are on our way to being friends.  We shared a common experience and we spent some time getting to know each other.

I left the party with far more than soup.  Thank you, Kathryn!

*Footnote:  Remember the message I posted here on Monday? We lost our power! My first thought was: Save the Soup!  Luckily, everything in my freezer in the basement was rock solid when the power came back on.  I lost everything in the upstairs refrigerator, but at least the soup was fine.  Tonight we have Chicken Tortilla! 

Monday, November 18, 2013

No Power; No Internet

The Midwest was rocked with storms yesterday. I'm fine but without power or Internet.  I'll have the blog back up as soon as I can!

Thursday, November 14, 2013

#1 Turkey Tip

Best Turkey Tip Ever.  Buy a "Stuffing Sack" at the grocery store (actually buy 3 and know that you're set for the next few holidays) and use it to stuff your turkey.  

A Stuffing Sack is a cheesecloth bag that you insert into the clean and lightly salted cavity of your turkey.  You push it in and fluff it open, leaving the opening wide so that you can spoon in the stuffing. Don't pack the stuffing tightly.  When all the stuffing in inside the sack, fold the cheesecloth closed and tuck it inside. On many turkeys their will be a flap that you can then pull over the open (and now stuffed) cavity and secure closed with two of the lacers from turkey lacer

You will realize how wonderful this product is once your bird is cooked.  It is very important to remove all of the stuffing from a cooked turkey, which is difficult when it has been stuffed the old way, without a stuffing sack.  Place a bowl near the stuffed area of the bird and remove the pins holding the flap closed. Grab the folded end of the stuffing sack (and hang onto the bird) and gently pull out the stuffing sack.  Dump the contents of the cheesecloth sack into the bowl and fluff with a fork.  Voila! No digging for stuffing. Period.

Get yourself a box (they cost around $1.50) and it will make your holiday meal much more relaxed.  The year I found out about these, I bought several and gave them to my friends - they are that great.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Detroit Goodfellow Dolls

Here are the dolls my mom dressed for The Old Newsboys' Goodfellow Fund of Detroit.  This organization has been coordinating volunteers to dress dolls to distribute as Christmas gifts to needy children in metro Detroit since 1924!  

You can register anytime in the Spring by reading this website and contacting Sari Klok-Schneider (sarigoodfellows@gmail.com).  The group has entire companies participating, with employees dressing hundreds of dolls, but they also welcome individual participants like my mom and me.  We requested 3 baby dolls and they arrived in the mail (complete with shoes, socks and underpants) ready for us to dress.  The program details are listed online.  This year my mom tracked down and purchased all the pieces we needed and we had a wonderful time gluing flowers and ribbons to their hats, sewing on a purse and making sure that their slips had some pouf. 

Here are "the girls", all ready to be loved.  We wrapped them in tissue and mailed them back to the Goodfellow's Headquarters a few weeks ago.  This fantastic program will distribute 12,000 dolls to children this Christmas!  I am so proud to be involved.  If you are interested in supporting this program, registration usually begins in March and the distribution of dolls to volunteers begins in May/June. 

I think every little girl should have a doll.  Are you with me?

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Sprinkle and Sugar Management

My blog is about finding delight in everyday life.  Celebrating the beauty of everyday moments. Embracing what you love, collecting what you want.  

I love a lot of things, but I tend to tell people that my life is driven by color and sugar.  No image will make that clearer than the one above.  My new genius invention...what I call "Sugar Management."

Do you love it!?!  It is every sprinkle I own, contained in individual clear boxes with lids.  I know, it makes my heart pound too.

You see, I have a lot of decorations and I use them liberally on cupcakes, cookies and the like.  I go on "field trips" with my friend Alison and we buy what we need for the upcoming holiday.  It is so fun, so reasonable and is the best collection ever.

Collection?  Yep, this counts.  Something that I have this much of and something that brings me this much delight surely counts as a collection. To me, this is art.
The road block for me was that the containers that they came in were of varying sizes and not at all appealing.  When I pull out my cookie decorations it should be as pretty as the sugar itself. Do you know what I mean?  The marginal packaging was standing in the way between me and the cute.  So I found a way to fix it.

Want to have your own system of sugar management?  I bought a collection of clear Amac boxes (this variety with a deep lid) and (this variety with a narrow lid) at the Container Store and I feel like a Sweet Genius.  

Monday, November 11, 2013

Gingerbread Men On My Christmas Tree

I know it feels a bit early for Christmas posts, but frankly it is my job to inspire you and I think that part of having a successful holiday is preparation.  A late night baking session on December 19th can exhaust anyone, so I propose that you bake a few key items ahead of time in the quiet of November and then freeze them.  You and I will both be happy when we pull our homemade cookies out of the freezer, weeks from now, and all we have to do is decorate them.  

Today I am spotlighting my grandmother's gingerbread men.  Her men always looked just like this (a cookie from my tree last year) and hung all over her Christmas tree. We were allowed to take one off of the tree to eat every time we visited her house in the weeks leading up to Christmas.  I loved it! She also made a ladder out of gingerbread that she leaned against the trunk.  It was to help the elves reach the branches!

Nama's tried and true recipe (one that I myself have used for 21 years) is Betty Crocker Gingerbread Cake & Cookie Mix.  Yes, a box mix.  Trust me, these cookies always come out perfectly. Specific instructions are on the side of the box - simply add a bit of water, flour and melted butter to the contents of the package and mix well with an electric mixer. Roll dough out on floured surface. I recommend baking on parchment paper for easy release. Allow the cookies to cool and then freeze in Ziploc freezer bags or Tupperware containers, with waxed paper or parchment paper arranged between each layer.  

If you aren't going to freeze them, then leave the gingerbread men uncovered for a few days to dry out before tying a ribbon around their necks.

When you are ready to decorate your gingerbread men (after they have defrosted or after a few days of drying out), make "glue" by mixing 2 tablespoons of powdered sugar and a few drops of hot water. Attach chocolate chip eyes and buttons with a dab of "glue"and then attach a "red hot" candy for his mouth.  Tie a ribbon around his neck and then slip an ornament hook into the ribbon and hang on the tree. Adorable!

My gingerbread men are quite popular (both eaten off the tree and on cookie platters) and to give myself a head start, I made 5 boxes worth of gingerbread men yesterday.  I burned an entire tray, so I was glad that I had made extras. They are already in my freezer and I feel great.  We will put up our Christmas tree on November 29 and by December 1st I should be having Gingerbread Men with my coffee in the morning.  Happy Holidays!

Friday, November 8, 2013

Grocery Store Flowers Are Just As Pretty

We hosted a birthday party last weekend at my house and in addition to all of the traditional birthday elements (balloons, cake, candles), I wanted to add a few touches around the house to make it look pretty.

Little flower arrangements make me happy and I lucked out when I found a bundle of Snow White Cremon (a Dutch version of a Football Mum) in the grocery store floral department, marked down to $2 for the bunch!  Aren't they perfect?

I hung them on the knob of the open china cabinet in my family room, in a clear glass vase.  The vase is neat because it has a small hole in the glass near the top that you can thread a ribbon through and hang it.  You can see a similar vase here.  I own this type of vase in several styles (test tube, tear drop) and I love how they allow me to hang flowers on the wall or furniture. I highly recommend getting one for yourself - they are less than $5 and make quite a statement.

Beauty on a budget - another type of delight!

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Honey Dijon Rose

It is only November and I am already missing my roses.  Sometimes it helps to stare at a beautiful image from Summer and remember how good we have it.  Life has seasons and we have to embrace the time we are in.  I'm shifting toward cozy recipes and holiday touches...are you with me? 

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Charm Bracelets: A Girl Can Dream

I have long believed that charm bracelets, particularly ones that marked occasions in your life, were the coolest things ever.  They encourage spontaneous storytelling and each charm can be as lighthearted or as meaningful as you like.  The charms could be a collection in themselves.  

The only problem I see with the whole jewelry category is that they are too darn expensive.  I don't think they should be the jewelry of the elite ($200 per charm) so a bracelet is valued in the thousands nor do I think it should break the bank to buy a whisk charm for your friend the cook.  Are you with me? 

The reasonable charms are few and far between and they are either designed for children or are unbearably 1-sided and uninspired. 

I am not in a position to fix this jewelry challenge, but I thought that I should make my position known.  I drew the charm bracelet above with a theme of "celebrating hobbies" - wouldn't it be fun to have that bit of whimsy jingling on your arm?