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! 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 (  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?  

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Touring Poilane with Patricia Wells

It was one of my luckiest days - being able to go into the basement bakery of world-famous bakery, Poilane on rue du Cherche-Midi in Paris with culinary inspiration, Patricia Wells. It has been a while since we crept down the steep half-circle staircase and found the bakers hard at work, but it seems like just yesterday.  I was in Patricia Wells cooking class for the week and part of our itinerary was a tour of Poilane. Can you imagine? 

Did you notice the intricate work being expressed in dough above? This type of culinary art is known as pain décoré - a custom loaf of bread with words, leaves or decoration to denote a special occasion.  
Here you can see the Poilane Country Loaves rising in a tower of linen-lined baskets. Functional and beautiful.  Their famous wood-burning oven is glowing in the distance.
It was a thrill to see the baker pull some Punitions (delicate butter cookies) from the wood-burning oven in the basement - you can see them as they are baking (above). Pierre Poilane (founder of Poilane in 1932) used to tell the story of his grandmother and how she would call her grandchildren to her side for a reprimand (punishment in French, punitions) and then instead surprise them with one of these sweet treats. 

The cookies are just delicious and the perfect cookie to enjoy with a cup of tea. We had a little snack upstairs in the famous room where Poilane displays the paintings of bread they accepted as payment by starving artists of the day.
Why am I spotlighting all of this now?  I keep seeing notices that Patricia is on a book tour in America for her latest book, The French Kitchen Cookbook (Santa, are you listening?) and her birthday was yesterday, so I was able to send her my best wishes on Facebook.  All of these happy events have my mind whirling as I reminisce about my time with her in Paris.  Magnifique!

Monday, November 4, 2013

Shell Wall Art

If only I'd had my wits about me, I would have scooped up one of these beautiful shell screens when I was at the Aloha Stadium swap meet in Honolulu.  We went to this swap meet several times (fresh coconut, gorgeous pearls, ukuleles -I was in heaven!) and in the down-by-the-sea setting of Hawaii, I became numb to how unusual these shells screens were. Real shells have been drilled and hung from a rope lattice, making the prettiest grid possible.  Hindsight is 20/20 and I wish I had inquired about the screens and bought one for myself! 

I would love this beachy touch in many coastal living scenarios:

  •  as art above a desk
  •  as a screen between living spaces in a small cottage
  •  on the wall of an outdoor shower
The possibilities are endless.  Do you remember when I was able to live with my friend in Hawaii for almost a month?  You can read more posts from that magical time in the blog sidebar - click "Honolulu" and "Hawaii" under City Series and all the posts labelled with that region will appear.  

I was invited to live with my friend and her husband and I took at leap and left the mainland for 3 1/2 weeks.  I loved it.  Calm breezes, tropical fruit and water in every direction.  Aloha!

Friday, November 1, 2013

Honeycomb and Roasted Grapes Make For A Luscious Cheese Tray

Want to know the #1 thing I look for at a farm stand or farmer's market? Honeycomb. A beautiful block of "made by the bees" honeycomb.  A marvel of nature that I don't think gets the admiration it deserves.  The structure is beautiful, the contents delicious and it is made by instinct - fascinating.

I bought one of these clear boxes of honeycomb (above) at the Shadowland Seed booth within the Sara Hardy Farmer's Market in Traverse City.  It was of the highest quality and I served it several times with cheeses and roasted grapes on an appetizer tray.
Roasted grapes, you say?  Yes, a new favorite of mine to keep appetizer hour interesting.  This particular night, I roasted seedless red grapes on the vine. Placed a piece of nonstick aluminum foil on a rimmed cookie sheet, wash and then drape the grape clusters onto the tray, drizzled them with a touch of olive oil and a few splashes of balsamic vinegar and roast the grapes at 450 degrees for approx 8-10 min - watching closely.

The grapes were delicious - very lush and sweet; they took on the flavor of a roasted apple, believe it or not.  I did find that "plucking" the roasted grape from the stem often resulted in loosing the inside of the grape - the skin came off but the flesh clung.  

Now I remove most of the grapes from the vine and roast them scattered on a cookie sheet, with just one small clump left on the vine for effect.  That makes the grapes much easier to pick up and eat.  

The next time you are hosting a party, try roasting grapes! Thanksgiving, perhaps?