Friday, May 30, 2014

Seattle: Window on the World: Ferry from Whidbey Island

I had to take this photo to show you our window seat on the car ferry from Whidbey Island back to the mainland near Seattle.  The lighting and symmetry of the bench seats and the Monet-like color scheme of the lake and mountains was positively dreamy.

And yes, this ferry was slow and steady (and a short trip!) so I felt fine.

This is the kind of photo that you can hang in the laundry room and escape into as you are going about your daily tasks. It will give me a chance to stop and remember my string of days in the Pacific Northwest.

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

My Third Spring: Cherry Blossoms Start the Season in Seattle

I found these two examples of flowering cherry trees when I was in the Washington Park Arboretum in Seattle last month.  I loved that I could frame the picture so that the branch of darker cherry blossom puffs frame the more delicate pale pink cherry branches. Don't you think its pretty?

Time marches on, these blooms have faded in Seattle, but miraculously I am experiencing my third Spring this year.  When I arrived in Seattle in early April, I was thrilled to see a magnolia tree in full bloom outside of our hotel.  I remember being so happy about this sign of Spring that I texted a picture of the tree to show my mom.

When I returned home to southeastern Michigan in early May, I hadn't missed a thing! The flowering crabs on the side of our house were just leafing out.  The dogwood tree was still dormant and the Bradford Pears were just about to bloom. My roses in the rose garden were alive (I could see small wisps of leaves at the base of each plant), but I'd lost the bulk of each cane to the cold winter temperatures. I've given them a lot of care over the past 2 weeks (pruning, Rose Tone fertilizer, Neptune's Harvest fish emulsion and a coating of bug spray) and I have high hopes for a healthy blooms by late June.

Now I am up north and everything is just starting to bloom here!  How can I be so lucky? The lilacs are just coming out, the forsythia makes vibrant swaths of yellow here and they and I saw the river lined with Marsh Marigolds today! I have been able to experience a "second Spring" by traveling north to the cottage, but I never dreamed I'd be able to start with the tulip festival in Washington on April 12 and still watch bulbs develop by the cottage in Michigan on May 30. That is a lot of Spring and I enjoyed every minute of it.  

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

S'More Maker: Delightful Date Night with Square Marshmallows

To me, nothing says Summer like S'mores. And you know how I love unreasonable appliances.  I was an early adopter of the electric iced tea maker and the Cocomotion (an electric pitcher that whirls and heats milk and chocolate to make cocoa) and to my surprise and delight, my brother and sister-in-law gave me this S'mores Maker. We normally make s'mores together on the beach at Lake Michigan, so I hadn't actually had a chance to use it until this Memorial Weekend.

We were home, instead of up at the lake, so Dan and I christened my s'more maker on Sunday night - roasting marshmallows and talking on the patio after a long day working on the house and garden.  

I had forgotten how relaxing it is to slowly roast a marshmallow. The s'more maker includes a burner for the fuel (you provide a small sterno can) with a handle and a snuffer to extinguish the flame. It worked like a charm and felt safe and easy. The stand works like a lazy Susan (the base spins), which makes assembling your s'more a piece of cake.  

Another item I must trumpet? Square marshmallows.  Kraft makes Jet Puffed StackerMallows - the same marshmallow recipe we love, just sized to fit perfectly on top of a graham cracker.  I like innovation when it makes sense. 

Do marshmallows need to be flavored? No, not really.  
Do marshmallows need to be the size of a lemon? No, not really. 
Do marshmallows need to be square to give more marshmallow to chocolate coverage in a S'more? Yes - now we're talking!

Friday, May 23, 2014

Painting Jam Jars: Yoga for my Inner Crafter

I couldn't have felt more relaxed as I dabbed dots of paint onto a collection of empty jam jars. Remember when I showed you how I was upcycling Bonne Maman jam jars in my craft room?  Well, I asked Kim to keep saving them for me (her husband eats a jar of raspberry jam a week!) as I had big plans for flower arranging.  

The process is easy. Use enamel paint from Michaels (be sure that the labeling says the baking process on it) and make dots with a Q-tip or small brush in a pattern that is pleasing to you.  Allow to air dry for 1 hour.  Place jars on a the baking rack in your oven, close the door and preheat to 350 (allowing the jars to heat up slowly with the oven). Bake for 30 minutes. Turn oven off and allow the jars to cool in the oven.  The jars should be now dishwasher safe! I don't foresee needing to wash vases in the dishwasher, but the claim gives me confidence that the design won't ship off.

Of course you should follow the actual instructions on the label of the paint you are using, but I wanted to explain it here so that you could see how perfectly easy it is.

Now my little army of vases are ready to be filled with flowers and given away.  I have tied matching ribbon around the rim of some of these and they look wonderful!  I spent an hour painting dots last night and I could feel my blood pressure going down.  This is yoga for my inner crafter.

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Unusual Vases: When Almond Jelly Looks Sweet

Remember when I went "vase" shopping in the canned food section of Uwajimaya in Seattle?  Well this BEAUTIFUL almond jelly can was one of my selections.  I couldn't resist the pink ombre-effect can.

When I was passing the floral department of the grocery store, I found these unusual carnations and raspberry roses in separate packages in the clearance section. Could any flowers be more suited to my new vase? I don't think so. (However my peonies are about to bloom, so stay tuned!)

I put a plain drinking glass inside of the tin (to avoid any water/rust) and Voila! It looked so pretty it inspired me to pull out my 3 pink lustre teacups and sandwich plates. Who wants to come for tea? 

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Etsy: An Art Fair Online: The Room Where I Create

I have been a busy bee lately! I've just expanded my Etsy store (an online marketplace for handmade, one-of-a-kind items) and added lots of new purses, jewelry and even my decorative matchboxes. I make one or two of a lot of different items.  Since I don't have a bricks and mortar store, I use Etsy as my online Art Fair
This blue purse (Sunrise #11195) is lined with a fabric I bought in Paris.
This is what you see when you open your purse!
I've added a variety of necklaces - this necklace is made with tan linen fabric covered beads and champagne faux pearls.
Here are little pieces of art: a set of my mini matchboxes
I love this Strawberry Oilcloth Envelope! I keep my point and shoot pocket camera in this when I travel.

In addition to writing, blogging and taking photographs, I love to create accessories that are beautiful and interesting.  Take a peek at my Etsy store and then tell me what you think!

Monday, May 19, 2014

Seattle: Dry Soda: The Time Has Come

I am encouraged by the very existence of Dry Soda.  Dry Soda is brand of beverage that is made from only 4 all-natural ingredients. Founder and CEO Sharelle Klaus' vision (She's a genius, as far as I'm concerned) was to create a carbonated beverage that was less sweet (and therefore would have less calories), caffeine free, low in sodium, yet full of herbal or fruit flavors that would pair well with "grown up" meals. Amen!

I avoid alcohol and a girl can only drink so much sparkling water! I would love to be able to order a sophisticated beverage when I am dining out. Particularly if it has a subtle flavor that would enhance my meal.  Shrimp Risotto and Diet Coke just don't pair well.

I had read about Dry Soda, but had never come across it on store shelves in Michigan.  Then when I was doing research for my extended trip to Seattle, I learned that Dry Soda is based in Seattle!  I knew that I would finally be able to find it, try it and then tell you about it.  

I found it easily on the shelves at the local Whole Foods and bought Rhubarb and Juniper Berry.  I served them with our delayed Easter dinner (ham, potato gratin, green beans) and they were quite good.  The lack of sugar is a shock, but it is a shock I am all for.  I know that there will be a few that I have a thirst for, I just have to zero in on which of the 11 flavors are in my wheelhouse. 

Dan liked them right off the bat. I can't wait to try more of their when I visit their TASTING ROOM when I am back in Seattle next month.  Can you believe it? They have a tasting room. See, I told you Sharelle Klaus was a genius.

Friday, May 16, 2014

Seattle: Vios Cafe in Capitol Hill: The Clean Plate Club

Vios Cafe, in the Capitol Hill area of Seattle, is my kind of place - meals crafted with care and served in a casual atmosphere.  There are shared tables, kids romping in the play area and I promise you, this is a place where everyone cleans their plate!  We started with a Trio Dip Sampler (Babaganoush, Tzatziki and Hummus) served with warm pita bread and a Marinated Olive Mix. Our starters were so delicious I could have made that my meal, but...
I did order the Chicken Souvlaki (oregano and lemon marinated skewers with tzatziki, slow roasted tomatoes and pita) and you can see Dan's Moussaka (baked casserole layered with eggplant, spiced meat sauce and potato, topped with bechamel) in the background.  We both loved our dinners and can't wait to visit again.  To give you an idea, I am going to insist we order the exact same thing - dips to chicken. Yum!

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Shell Topped Toothpicks: One of my Entertaining Favorites

These toothpicks are almost too pretty to use!  I bought this beautiful set of (real!) seashell-topped toothpicks at a little shop in Florida and I can't wait to put them out at my next little party.  The WONDERFUL news is now I can direct you to a place online to buy shell-topped toothpicks for your house! One of my favorite places now offer similar shell-topped toothpicks - get some at Fancy Flours today. You can use them to serve so many different appetizers - fruit, shrimp, mushrooms.  Here is a recipe I love - use the shell-topped toothpicks AFTER they are cooked.

I am planning on serving bacon-wrapped dates as a hearty appetizer.  This appetizer is always a hit - each bite is sticky, sweet, salty and savory all at once! 

Bacon-wrapped Dates

You cut a slice of raw bacon into 3 equal pieces (2-3 inches long) and then wrap each piece around a whole pitted dried date.  Place the seam side down on a slotted broiler pan - be sure to have the broiler pan base on as well to catch the drippings.  The dents in the pan are perfect for resting each date in, seam side down, this will keep the bacon snug around the date.  (*If the bacon starts to unfurl, give in a use a standard toothpick to secure.)

Broil a few minutes and then, using tongs, turn each date over and broil on the other side until the bacon is completely cooked - approx 4 minutes on each side.

Arrange the bacon-wrapped dates on a small ceramic dish and serve with shell topped toothpicks for an appetizer that is beautiful, interesting and delicious!

Seattle: Sentimental Starbucks

Grande Nonfat Latte has been part of my vernacular for so long it is hard to remember that Starbucks had a modest beginning, just like all great American brands.  I've never seen "the first McDonald's" or "the first Baskin-Robbins" but when I had the chance to visit the first Starbucks across from Pike Place Market in Seattle, Washington, I had to stand in line and place my order.
There was a line out the door and of course it was orderly chaos inside, but I found that the wait time was not that bad.  The store is loaded with Pike Place Market Starbucks merchandise and everyone seemed perfectly happy to wait to drink a sentimental Starbucks.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Seattle: Martha E. Harris Gift Shop in Madison Park: A Visual Gold Mine

I give my highest "must see" rating to Martha E. Harris Flowers and Gifts in Madison Park, Seattle.  If you love what I love (entertaining, color, ribbon, china, flowers, tablescapes), then you must figure out a way to visit this beautiful shop.  In my photograph above you can see the shelves (yes, shelves) of Emma Bridgewater took my breath away.  It is very difficult to find Emma Bridgewater pottery and accessories for sale in the United States. I simply couldn't believe my eyes.  I'm under strict instructions from my mom to return to this store when I get back to Seattle in June and get her some of the "bird mugs." Fun!  Do you remember when I visited the Emma Bridgewater Factory in Stoke-on-Trent, England?   

I have shopped all over the country (Houston, Palm Beach, Chicago, New York) and I can easily tout Martha E. Harris Flowers & Gifts as being one of the prettiest merchandised shops with the best selections of all the things I love. It is a visual gold mine.
When is the last time you saw a selection of ribbon this extensive? I need to make a game plan and return (ribbon for fresh lavender bundles, ribbon for my Honey Dijon rose bouquets, ribbon to create a monogram with on a pillow).  
When I was reflecting on my visit and preparing to write this post, I realized how broad the phrase "gift shop" is.  There are 3 gift shops on every main street in every town in America.  The quality of goods varies greatly and more often than not, they sell whimsy, not beauty.  Martha E. Harris offers beauty through color-based vignettes and colorful displays.  Lovely pieces to buy for your home or give to a friend.  If only I could register for my wedding all over again!
I have been passionate about linens for years.  I have amassed quite a collection of dishtowels, runners and napkins and lately I have been pushing myself to use them around the house.  I love how the usual color combinations can add interest to a clean and classic kitchen.
I also really appreciated the variety of fine gifts at Martha E. Harris.  In the photo above you can see apple-shaped candles, beautiful yarn scarves, pretty gift wrap rolls and paper flowers.  I couldn't wait to show you.
The shopgirl called a new collection of spice jar dolls to my attention. They are a great example of how the store brings in a few art pieces to enhance the mix. 
What surprised me was that Martha E. Harris is also a floral design service. The retail marriage of floral arrangements and fine gifts makes so much sense - purchase beautiful serving pieces, fresh linens and order a bouquet for the table.  Look at the masterpiece they had made up just minutes before I arrived.  And notice the variety of glass vases on the shelves...this florist isn't kidding around!
As I travel around the country, I try to highlight the shops, sweets and treats that I think will bring delight to my readers - I call it a "City Series." In the sidebar of the blog, you can find other cities and when you click the name, you will see a list of all my blog posts from that city.

When you visit Seattle, make your way to Madison Park and I know you will find delight at Martha E. Harris Flowers & Gifts.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Seattle: Madison Park: A Spring Day on Lake Washington

After quick and delicious lunch at Madison Kitchen, I walked down to Madison Park and found a spot to relax on the shores of Lake Washington.  Whenever I travel to a new city, I make myself a map bag of the area.  

It is fun, good-looking and useful! I can't tell you how many times people have pointed me in the right direction by referring to my "map."  No, I don't make and sell them in my Etsy store, but I might someday. I am working on loading new and exciting pieces to my store this week.
I heightened the blue in these pictures so that the mountains would show up a bit more - Mount Rainier is just to the left of the hotel in the photo above. 
Madison Park is a great spot to dip your toes in the water and soak up the vacation-like setting.  This day was one of the first 75 degree days of Spring and the grassy area was full of twenty-somethings catching some sun and eating impromptu picnics on their lunch breaks.  It is a view like this, so close to the bustling downtown, that make people fall in love with Seattle. 

Monday, May 12, 2014

Seattle: Madison Kitchen Made My Day

If only every town could have a Madison Kitchen, I would be one happy traveler.  Fresh delicious flavors, quality ingredients, generous portions served to go or you can do yourself a favor and stay.  Eat slowly and talk to your friends. It's good for you. 

I stopped into Madison Kitchen at my friend's behest.  She is friends with one of the owners (she used to live in Seattle) and knew that he had opened a restaurant in Madison Park.  She knew that his food would be wonderful and she was right, of course.  I ordered a Salad Trio (choosing 3 from the many fresh choices) with Chicken Salad, Potato Salad and Fruit Salad.  Does it seem weird to describe food as honest, because that is what comes to mind.  Big chunks of fresh ingredients.  Green onion so fresh and bright it can hold its own within the potato salad.  Not too much salt; not too many herbs.  Clean flavors with a satisfying heft.  I'm sold.

It was a great lunch. I enjoyed watching customers come in and out like bees to a hive.  The Salad Trio was very popular, but it was interesting that the 3 choices people made varied a lot.  That is a good sign for any restaurateur, that the entire menu could be considered customer favorites.

After my visit to the actual park called Madison Park down the street, I returned for a refreshing drink and snack.  Limonata and a homemade oatmeal studded raspberry bar. Oh me oh my, it was perfect.  The next time I am within reach, I will be back. Can you say: Open for Breakfast!

Friday, May 9, 2014

Seattle: Ray's Boathouse and Cafe

It was all about the view for me the night we had dinner at Ray's Boathouse and Cafe in Ballard. We had a late start after work so we missed the sunset, but we had a nice meal of fish & chips indoors and started to plot our return to Ray's. We simply must sit on this patio as the sun sets. 
Over looking Puget Sound, Ray's has a hard-to-believe water view with a backdrop of the Olympic Mountains.  After the sun sets, there was a chill in the air and in addition to the heat lamps being turned on, I noticed the staff handing out Ray's blankets to keep the patio patrons warm.  How thoughtful!

Ray's has a more formal restaurant on the first floor (Boathouse), but the indoor/outdoor cafe upstairs was exactly what we were looking for: fresh fish and a scenic view.  We will be back.

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Seattle: Washington Park Arboretum: A Flowering Crab is Pretty in Pink

A flowering crabapple in the Washington Park Arboretum is pretty in pink.  Look at how the petals that have fallen make the ground look like its covered in pink snow.  If ever a tree looked fit for a fairy tale, this is it.

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Seattle: Pike Place Market: Agrarian Abundance

Yes, I swooned over the tulips at Pike Place Market in early April, who wouldn't? I also returned the following week and bought items for a Pike Place Market inspired dinner, complete with fresh flowers for the table.
A wonderful plus about this tourist attraction is the farm-to-table aspect that puts the freshest of the fresh fruits and vegetable at your fingertips.
Everything looked gorgeous and it was fun to imagine which recipes I could bring to life in my little hotel room kitchen.  
When I was wandering around, I noticed people walking through a door and out onto a little deck.  It was tiny, but allowed me to take this photo of the ferris wheel on the water.
I stopped at world famous Pike Place Fish (where the fish mongers throw whole fish as it is ordered) and bought a pound of salmon. It was fun to hear the staff yell out (and then echo) the fish orders like auctioneers.
I bought salmon (and from another vendor - fresh dill and fingerling potatoes) for our Pike Place-theme dinner that night.  It was delicious and it was the first meal after a long winter where I could buy the ingredients at a market in the morning and then cook it for dinner that night.  Welcome Spring!

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Seattle: Brave Horse Tavern

If you are looking for a noisy, afterwork hot spot with an extensive drink list and beer selection, Brave Horse Tavern on South Lake Union in Seattle is the perfect to meet up with your friends...and I insist you order the Smorgasbord (ours included deviled eggs, onion dip, crackers, house made charcuterie, 
local cheese, snack mix, pickled vegetables, fresh sliced pear).  It was delicious with our drinks and I could have eaten far more than my fair share. I also love the presentation on a large wood serving board, showcasing the various heights and textures.
Brave Horse is also known for their handmade pretzels, served with 3 different kinds of mustard. I didn't have a chance to partake, but I heard from more than one person that they were the magnet that draws people in.  All in all I really liked the atmosphere.  Was my hamburger a winner? No, but it didn't effect my overall feeling about Brave Horse Tavern.  I will be back...and this time I'm getting the pretzels!

Monday, May 5, 2014

Seattle: Kinokuniya Bookstore: Japanese Magazines, Paper, Pens

When paper is displayed like fabric, I feel right at home.  This beautiful selection of Washi Paper is at Kinokuniya Bookstore in Seattle.  The entrance to the bookstore is within Umajimaya, an Asian marketplace that you will also have fun exploring.  I spent a lot of time in the paper craft area (remember when I made paper pastries from a Japanese kit?) and I marveled at the selection of colored ink pens.  I bought myself a periwinkle mini notebook and matching ink pen.  
I poured over the selection of Japanese magazines and found a really neat craft magazine. Naturally I can't read it (or the title) but it says "Chic Chic" in English on the front and is loaded with ideas to design with yarn, paper, frosting.  I can't wait to sit down and "read" it. I know that I will be inspired by the photographs.  The magazine itself also looks good displayed on my ottoman next to a Japanese tea service.  Win-win.

Friday, May 2, 2014

Seattle: Uwajimaya: Japanese Store, Food Emporium, Inspiration Mecca

If you're a regular reader, you know that I love Japanese design and packaging.  Remember my sushi soap vignette? And how I enhanced all of those beautiful juice cans?  

When I heard that there was an enormous Asian grocery store called Uwajimaya, I couldn't wait to look at their selection of cans that I could use as floral vases.  I know, that's how my brain works.
So...I found 2 aisles that were perfect.  I settled on 5 different cans (2 whole fruit, 3 fruit beverage) and I will show them to you once I have enhanced them a touch and they are ready to be vases. And yes, I emptied the cans before I traveled with them to keep my suitcase under 45 pounds.
I loved taking my time and pouring over every last item in the kitchen section. Tea strainers, rice servers, herb choppers, ginger graters.  What a selection.

There is a really neat trend in lunch box food prep that I have always thought was very interesting - bento box lunches for kids.  (You may want to see some examples at the Just Bento blog).The tools shown above help home cooks cut and mold food into neat shapes.  Apple slices can be "cut out" with a cookie cutter-like instrument, so that the fruit slice is shaped like a cat with ears. Sushi rice can be molded into shapes, perhaps a teddy bear head or sheep.  It is a labor-intensive lunch, for sure but I can imagine that if it seems like fun to you (and your children) it would be a fun way to involve them in lunch prep and it would encourage them to eat their lunch.  I had never seen the tools in person and I was happy that I could take a photo to show you.
I also noticed this kit that helps you make a sushi cake! It is to look sweet, but it actually has savory, main dish-like items on it.  I find this entire concept beautiful and interesting.
Uwajimaya has a beautiful selection of foods in a very casual food court.  It was only 10 am or I assure you I would have eaten some of those tempura shrimp!
The grocery section had a variety of fresh fish, and by fresh I mean, still swimming in a tank! I have seen lobster sold this way, but never tilapia.  It was eye-opening.

Stay tuned for the beautiful can vases!