Monday, January 19, 2015

Frame Beautiful Christmas Cards as Art

Now that the holiday decorations are all tucked away, do you still have a stack of Christmas cards on your kitchen desk?  I know lots of cards have family photos on them (so cute!) Did you receive any that have an imageI want to show you how a pretty card can become a permanent piece of art. 

I know it isn't ground breaking to imagine framing a pretty card, nor is it hard to do. But sometimes you need concrete evidence of how worthwhile the effort is.

My pen pal Renate lives in England (remember when she collected souvenirs from the Royal Wedding for me?) and is a lovely friend who takes great care in choosing a Christmas card for me that is distinctly British. This year she sent me a card with a beautiful painting depicting the changing of the guard on a snowy day at Buckingham Palace.  I just love it and wanted to be able to enjoy for years to come.

I took the card with me to Joann Fabric to find a frame with the right scale and coloring.  I went over to the paper department and held the card up against a million different styles of scrapbook paper - a really fun way to make a mat for a picture - but nope. I didn't like any of them.  

When I got home, I looked through my stash of fabrics and found a piece with just the right mood: a rich red plaid to highlight the guards' red uniforms. I ironed the fabric, wrapped it around the mat board that came with the frame and secured it to the back with duct tape.  Then I placed pieces of scotch tape rolled into a small tube on the back of the card, at each corner, and carefully placed it on the fabric. It left a border of red plaid fabric all the way around the card. The bits of tape on the back of the card helps to keep the card from slipping when I placed it in the frame, against the glass. Then all I had to do was close up the back of the frame. I wrote Renate's name and 2014 on the back of the frame. Voila! I have a sentimental piece of art to put on display for years to come.

Have I inspired you? I think this is a wonderful way to decorate a tabletop for the holidays.

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Beekman 1802 Honey & Oats Scrub Bar and Photo News

Brace yourself. It is my photograph of the Beekman Mansion on the new Beekman 1802 Honey & Oats Scrub Bar packaging! I am as proud as can be. You can see the original image below.
When Dan and I were in upstate New York, we were able to visit my friends, Josh and Brent at their farm in Sharon Springs. Josh and I have been friends since college, where we were English majors at Michigan State University.  I was part of a close knit group of friends (Josh, Tracy, Kerry, Me) and I don't think a day went by that we didn't see each other.  We are all still good friends, but life has us living in separate parts of the country and our visits are more often on the phone, than in person  


Over time, Dan and I have become friends with Josh's husband, Brent too and we make an effort to see each other whenever we go to New York or when they come to Michigan on a book tour.  
It was a glorious day when we toured the farm and with their blessing, I blogged about their growing lifestyle brand, flagship store in Sharon Springs and their win on the Amazing Race.  You can read my original post here.
My photo of the mansion was noticed online and I was contacted about granting rights for the use of my image on their new packaging. I would do anything to help Josh and Brent and in my own small way, I am doing my part. 

The Honey & Oats Scrub Bar is a big, beautiful bar of soap that they describe as "Skin Softening Formula: Gently Exfoliates with Natural Bran & Oatmeal. Notes of apricot & honeyed blossoms, hint of fresh wildflowers." It smells divine and I'm sure it will delight.

You can order the Honey & Oats Goat Milk Scrub Bar online or buy it right off the shelf in the flagship Beekman 1802 Mercantile in Sharon Springs, New York (photo above). If you'd like, you can read all about my first visit to the mercantile here.

As someone that loves and admires beautiful packaging, I love that one of my photos is now a permanent part of Beekman 1802 packaging. As I said, I am very proud.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Dahlia Tubers - Order Early from Dahlia Barn

I'm making sure my garden is full of delight from August to October. I just ordered some tubers from The Dahlia Barn. They will ship them to me when the timing is right this spring and then its up to me!

Remember when I visited them in the Pacific Northwest this fall? It was such a nice visit and I promised to try growing them in my own little garden. You can place your order anytime now and they begin shipping (by planting zone) in March. Since it is -3 degrees here today, I've got a while to wait!

But why not order now before any variety is sold out? I chose some by color and some by name. How could I resist "Dot Com" or "Sonic Bloom," I ask you? There is a Northwest Flower and Garden Show in February that I would love to attend, but alas, my boots are in Michigan (and sometimes Florida) that time of year.  If you go to the flower show, enjoy it a little more for me, ok?

Monday, January 12, 2015

Seattle: Discovery Park: Peace and Quiet

Seattle's Discovery Park is all about light. We were out on the tip of the peninsula, on the South Beach side, on a Sunday afternoon in October and I was surprised that there weren't more people around. The population of Seattle is around 650,000, but we practically had the place to ourselves. Of course, the Seattle area has so many parks, lakes and mountains to explore, I know that it's citizens were out and about on this spectacular day, they just weren't here.
The water on Puget Sound was calm and I sat here and enjoyed the sound of the water lapping at the shore while Dan explored the terrain around the lighthouse.
I used my zoom to give you a better look at Mt. Rainier and a freighter travelling on the waterway.
This photo is of the same bay, same direction as above (imagine that Mt Rainier is just off to the right).  Isn't it interesting how much more rich the color blue looks when it is set off by the green and khaki of the shoreline?

Discovery Park was once a military base and it is the largest public park in Seattle. There are trails to hike, beaches to walk (there are 2 miles of protected tidal beaches, so no fishing or shelling) and a bounty of natural habitats to explore. I encourage you to visit the park website and read this FAQ sheet. I read that there are tidal pools here too, so I've got that on my list to visit next time.

Friday, January 9, 2015

The Reeves Library and Antique Pots de Creme

I think I have mentioned "The Reeves Library" to you before. I was given full control over our upstairs hall linen closet when we built our house and what began as a place to keep my Victoria and Martha Stewart Living magazines, quickly expanded to hold all of the issues of magazines that I love and want to keep.  I have all of the issues of the short-lived Blueprint magazine. Years of the outstanding publication American Homestyle and Garden and at least a decade of Country Home.  Every shelf is full. I am almost to the point where my library needs an expansion.

I tend to store my issues by brand and by month, rather than by year.  That way all of my February Victoria issues are together and I can pull out 8 and have all the inspiration I need for Valentines Day fun.  Most people that tout organizational philosophies or methods get rid of magazines first. But I am not most people and I certainly use what I keep. My library is active and I love it.

Here's proof.  I pulled out the Victoria magazine from Jan/Feb 2009 and look what is on the cover. A pot de creme that is very similar to the set of four that I found at the West Palm Beach Antique and Flea Market. I knew that I had to have them, but its also fun to see that they are cover-worthy

The article "Pots de Creme: A Taste of History at the Table" was written by Katie Brandon ans she says "These intricate creamy white cups are a reproduction of an 18th century design from the Pont Aux Choux factory..."

I have yet to bake in them yet. I want to make sure that these antique vessels can handle the heat of a water bath first. 

Have you ever bought anything that you then saw in a magazine? 

Thursday, January 8, 2015

McCormick Spices: My Kind of Flagship Store

This is my kind of flagship store...all spices

McCormick & Company opened a beautiful 3,800 square foot "McCormick World of Flavors" retail store on Baltimore's Inner Harbor dedicated to their spices and other McCormick brands like Grill Mates®, Lawry’s®, Zatarain’s® and Old Bay®  
I was a sentimental fool, admiring all of the spice tins of yesteryear. The company did a beautiful job displaying the life of McCormick spices. Remember my vintage spices - the ones that belonged to my grandmother?  Her paprika would fit right in (above).
I am so impressed with the McCormick brand. They are innovative, modern and interactive - as a home cook, what's not to love?  I was instantly a fan of their "Recipe Inspirations" collections. Have you seen them (above)? Each recipe card has the right amount of six spices  to make one recipe. It allows consumers to experiment with new flavors, without having to invest in 6 full jars of spices. Once they fall in love with the flavors, they can buy the jar for their collection. Genius.
I was also very interested in their salt dispensary. You know that I have a salt collection and I wanted to get some of their special flavored salt-by-weight. Sun ripened tomato salt, chipotle sea salt, lime fresco salt - I want them all! I must have gotten distracted because somehow I didn't dispense any for myself.

McCormick and Company was founded in Baltimore, Maryland in 1889, which made 2014 the company's 125th Anniversary. They designed a darling retro blue and white pepper tin and I managed to get that up to the register.  It is my kind of souvenir.

In addition to the commemorative tin, the company launched an initiative called "The Flavor of Together." It is the process of collecting stories from customers around the world about flavors and family recipes, as well as a $1.25 million donation to the United Way to help feed those in need. You can click the link in this paragraph and read hundreds of stories from around the world. 

This company has vision, and to me that is the spice of life!

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Sugar Shell: Homemade Candy Coated Fruit

Double wow times ten.  I haven't been so tickled with a recipe or process in years. I present my Sugar Shell hard-candy coated fruit.  I have taken fresh fruit and dipped them into a homemade liquid hard candy before it sets.  Once the candy shell is hard, the fruit has a shiny hard candy exterior and is ready to serve.

Where is Marie Antoinette when I need her?  Fruit this beautiful deserves fine linens, candelabras and a concerto, don't you think?

Have you ever been lulled by someone's storytelling?  When I was in Patricia Wells' cooking class in Paris, one of my classmates told me that when I made it to Rome, there was a dessert she wanted me to order at a particular restaurant. I have yet to make it to Rome, but her description has stayed with me. 

She described a grand presentation of fresh fruit with a shiny candy coating. She said that it was expensive, but worth every penny because the experience and flavor was so unique.  When does one get the chance to crunch through a candy shell on raspberry?
The fruits glisten like jewels. They have a satisfying crunch when you bite into the candy shell and they are sweet and juicy and delicious. The high temperature of the sugar syrup seems to blanch the fruits a bit and the natural fruit flavors transform into something like a liquor.  The raspberries were divine. The strawberries were ridiculous. The maraschino cherries looked like perfect glass ornaments and simply tasted like more. I'd eat one and then another. I couldn't resist and you won't be able to either. 

A note worthy tip: I found Royal Harvest's Nature's Maraschino Cherries with Stems at Costco. They are colored and flavored with natural concentrates and real sugar, which results in beautiful cherries with great flavor and texture.

I have not been able to get beautiful sugar shell fruit out of my mind and one day I noticed a recipe online at Epicurious under the title, Glaceed Fruits. I did not use any ginger in my preparation and I used Reynolds Wrap non-stick foil.
I cannot underestimate how wonderful it is to be able to rely on a digital candy thermometer for this recipe. I didn't have to squint and get close to the pan, trying to read the thermometer through the steam. Instead I could see where I was every step of the way. This model even names each phase (soft boil, soft crack, hard crack) as your mixture reaches that temperature - genius.
I dipped the strawberries, raspberries and mandarin orange segments with wooden skewers. I dipped the grape clusters with metal tongs and I dipped the cherries carefully by the stem.
This is absolutely worth doing. The fruit tastes incredible, the crunchy sugar shell is delicious and the "looks too beautiful to eat" rating is off the charts. My only regret? The fruit juices dissolve the candy coating over night.  This is not a dessert that you can do very far in advance. 6 hours? I suppose you could try refrigerating them, but the humidity in the refrigerator might effect the candy just the same. That said, I know that I will be making this sugar shell fruit again and again. It is too spectacular not to.  I will just have to time my masterpiece accordingly.
I hear Mozart in the distance, do you?

Monday, January 5, 2015

Putz Village Display: When Color Trumps Reason

All season I tried to think of a better way to display my new collection vintage Japanese Putz houses, than interspersed with my coffee table books. You'll remember that I bought them at an antique show in November and did a little renovation on them.  These stiff paper houses were made in Japan in the 1950's.

Initially I couldn't resist how the colors of the books on the bakers rack echoed the houses themselves, so I tucked one here and one there, telling myself that they looked like a Swiss village.

I had a collection of teeny-tiny people, those made to replicate a model train community, and I used putty to make them stand at the front door or sit on the porch of a few of the homes. Cute, eh?
I know that my Putz village display is non-traditional, but I love it. The village looks happy to me and I'm not certain that I would find the same joy if I found a setting that looked more realistic.  What do you think?

Thursday, December 25, 2014

Merry Christmas

Merry Christmas! I've had a lovely month full of friends and family. I've had more events and activities than usual, which left me no time to write. I'll be "filling in" my December adventures now that I have a break. At least they can serve as inspiration and reference for Christmases to come. xo Anne

Friday, December 5, 2014

Christmas Lights: Electric Enthusiam

I call a holiday light display like this, "Electric Enthusiasm."  While it isn't something I would design and install myself, I know that the owners must feel very proud of their holiday spirit.  Thankfully, it doesn't flash, nor is there music piped onto the lawn. It is just a lot of lights and I think it's quite fun. 

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Chicago: Macy's is a Christmas Destination in Chicago

I insisted that we walk from the Christkindlmarket over to Macy's (the original Marshall Fields) on State Street in Chicago to see their holiday window display. Each window had a different classic theme and holiday baking (above) was by far my favorite. Though my photo can't show you the movement, I know that you can imagine the apron-clad baker chasing the dog through the kitchen and around the Christmas tree. It's darling.
This window shows Santa taking off from the roof of Macy's and heading out to deliver presents around the world.
Here are teenage elves wrapping gifts for girls and boys.
I was with Dan and a friend of mine who wasn't familiar with the historic department store. I had fun briefing her on the history of the beautiful 9-story shopping haven and told her all about the famous Walnut Room restaurant and the chicken pot pie that has been on the menu since 1907. As I was told, a woman that worked at the department store back in 1890 would make homemade chicken pot pies and bring them to her friends on staff. This Chicago Tribune article (which includes the recipe!) says that customers first tried her chicken pot pies when we sold them at a counter inside the store and the demand for them led Marshall Fields to open the now famous Walnut Room, the first restaurant inside a department store.
We went inside went directly to The Walnut Room, in case we could snag a table and order some dessert and coffee.  I tried, but it was a busy day and there was a long wait. Next year!  The 45 foot tall Christmas tree in the Walnut Room was lit Frango Mint green - wow. We had fun exploring the beautiful store all decked out for the holidays.
Oh Santa, this is where holiday shopping is fun.

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Panettone: An Italian Treat for Breakfast

At my house, most mornings in December start with coffee and panettone.  This beautiful example is made by Chiostro di Saronno in Italy. I found it at Costco and it is so delicious, that we are already on our second tin.  This Christmas bread is flavored with a hint of almond and is studded with just enough pieces of dried fruit. The bread is dense and chewy and the tin keeps the first slice as fresh as the last. 

I always have a stash of pretty holiday paper plates and napkins in the kitchen and use them for breakfast. Aside from the coffee cups, I am spared another sink full of dishes. And the panettone looks so festive on it!

If you are looking for a fun new holiday tradition, try a panettone for breakfast.

Monday, December 1, 2014

Christmas Ornaments: Birds

I thought about titling this blog post Winged Victory, in a cute reference to all the beautiful wings and feathers depicted on these German blown glass bird ornaments. It is true that birds of a feather, flock together. I was in good company with others at the Christkindlmarket, oohing and ah-hing over this incredible selection of bird ornaments. I would never believe that there were this many choices.
Many of the shop owners in the German Christkindlmarket in Chicago have walk up wooden kiosk to display their merchandise and interact with shoppers. The Lauschaer Glaskugelhaus has an entire wooden cabin that allows for a much larger display. If you can't make it to Chicago by Christmas Eve, you can shop for these spectacular bird ornaments here.
Birds of a Feather Flock together. We have several bird ornaments on our tree already and I simply couldn't decide which one to add to our collection. They are all beautiful.

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Christkindlmarket Chicago: My Visit Was A Dream Come True

I have wanted to visit the German Christmas Market in Chicago for y-e-a-r-s. My busy holiday schedule made it impossible until this year. The moons aligned; the snowy weather held off and my husband had time off of work. We jumped in the car and made our hotel reservation from the road.
The Christkindlmarket is set up in Daley Plaza near the live Christmas tree and is open from November 21-December 24. Each vendor has a wooden hut with a striped tent roof and a plaque that names the shop and the German town where they are from. 
Here you can see an extensive selection of cuckoo clocks, and then the sign identifying them as Black Forrest Clocks. I am so happy that the official Christkindlmarket website has a vendor page with links to each company. If you saw something and regret not buying it at the market, there is still a chance you can order it online. Nice!
Hands down, my favorite find was a real gingerbread cookie necklace. They were baked and decorated in Neidenbach, Germany and flown here for the Christkindlmarket.
People were wearing them all over the market. When I got home, I hung it on my tree. So cute! The message is: Ich hab dich soooo lieb which means I love you sooooo much! All of the German shop girls commented on my cookie and smiled at Dan, telling me that he must reallllllly love me. When we went back to the market the next day, one of the shop girls recognized me and said "Sooo lieb" to me, to tell me that she remembered.
I will write more about our visit in another post, but you can see that the Christkindlmarket in Chicago really is a must visit, if you get the chance!

Saturday, November 29, 2014

Waterlogue: A Dreamy Christmas Card Can Be Personal Too

I am in love with this image. And why not? It is my very own living room all decorated for Christmas. Can I paint? Not this well! I used the iPad app called Waterlogue to transform one of my photographs into a convincing watercolor. It is very likely that I will make my Christmas cards this year or next from a custom watercolor image. The app allows you to choose brush stroke width, color depth etc. You make a few choices and then roll the dice to see how it translates into an image before your eyes. Don't love it? Just change a few settings and try again. I get lost in this app exploring the possibilities.

Because Waterlogue images can be saved as a JPEG (photo), I was able to save the image to my iPad and then print this image as an 8x10 and it hang on my refrigerator for inspiration. Every time I see it I think of other projects I want to try. Other images I want to convert into a watercolor. This technology is incredible and its a wonderful time to be creative. I highly recommend it.

Friday, November 28, 2014

Putz Houses: A Cardboard Village of Vintage Japanese Houses

I was the happiest girl at the antique show that day! I found a basket full of vintage putz houses for sale. I chose the 8 that I wanted to purchase and the dealer made me an incredible offer to buy all of them - I bit. I am the proud owner of 19.

And then the December 2014 issue of Martha Stewart Living arrived in the mail a few days later.  The cover was a wreath covered in vintage putz houses! I didn't change my plans for the houses when I saw the magazine, I still want to arrange it on a table or plate rack, but I loved that Martha and I are still on the same page (wink).

The photo above shows the collection as I bought it.  I have mold allergies, so when I first got them home, I put them all in a giant Ziploc bag and placed it in the freezer for a few days. I've heard that freezing can kill spores and so far I have not suffered a sniffle. 

I've since washed the windows with a Q-tip and Windex, re-glittered some of the rooftops, painted the blue trees a proper green and painted the exterior walls of a few buildings to add variety - for example, the white house in the front left is now a lovely shade of apricot. It is okay with me that the homes are a little worn, I am not trying to take the vintage out of them. Just a touch or two to freshen them up.

I posted this photo onto my Moments of Delight Facebook Page the day I was working on them with the line "You never know what I mean when I say home improvement!" I love these little houses and they make me happy every time I see them.

I will show you my holiday village on display once I settle on a zip code in my house. They've been in several rooms so far and I just can't decide.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Soup Exchange: An Exercise in Building Community

Do you remember when I went to a soup exchange last year? I made 5 batches of my favorite tomato soup, which is from Martha Stewart's Everyday Food called Classic Tomato Soup and lugged it over to my friend, Kathryn's house. Well the soup exchange was such a hit, it not only has returned, but expanded! I think 21 women exchanged soup this year. 

My friend Kathryn is a positive, energetic and organized woman who loves to cook. She is also a mother of 3 who knows how wonderful it feels to have a stash of dinners in the freezer, particularly during the cold Winter months. I'm sure many a family warded off the polar vortex last year with a big pot of soup. 

I was lucky to be able to attend the party on the night of the exchange this year, because originally I thought that we might still be in Seattle. I RSVP'd for the camaraderie but didn't register a soup in case I was still out of town. The last thing I wanted to do was leave her short one girl. I came the night of the event and marveled at everyone's effort. All of these women came together for fun and fellowship...and left with a freezer full of soup. In case you want to try a soup exchange with your friends, I'll explain how the night worked.

There were 3 groups of 7 women. Kathryn gave each participant 14 empty plastic quart containers.   Each participant was to bring 12 containers of her favorite homemade soup (frozen) in a cooler to Kathryn's house.  Each participant kept 2 of the quarts of her soup at home for her family.  

Each group would do an organized swap. The first 7 women
(Group #1) set out their frozen soup on the table by the sign with the name of their soup (see photo above). Then they would walk around the table and take 2 quarts each of the other flavors and put them into the cooler they brought. When all the soups were claimed, Group #2 set out their soups and the process started again. It sounds complicated, but it was surprisingly easy. Group #3 proceeded the same way.

After the coolers were tucked back into the cars, Kathryn set out 21 individual Mac n Cheese ramekins, 2 large pans of roasted brussel spouts with bacon and 2 cold apple/cranberry Jell-O salads. We knew that she was making dinner, but we still couldn't believe that the rush-rush of our lives was suspended for an evening and that we were all sitting down to a relaxed adult dinner. There were two big tables of women talking and laughing. We didn't all know each other, in fact, I only really knew about 8 of the women. But I learned a few names and really connected with a few more.

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 have seen a few of the women since that night and we've met each other with an honest, "Hi!" We hugged and chatted and are on our way to becoming friends.  We shared a common experience and we spent some real time getting to know each other. Priceless.

Thank you, Kathryn!

Monday, November 24, 2014

Spontanei-tea

Do you have cups and saucers at the ready? This is the time of year that you want'll to be ready for spontanei-tea.

My friend, Kathleen, who has a new scone business, called to see if I was at home. She had a new flavor of scone for me to try (toffee chocolate chip!) and freshness is king in the world of baked goods.

"Come on over!," I proclaimed, and then proceeded to the dining room to retrieve my glass teapot and some of my formal china cups and saucers. If I'm not going to use them when a friend drops by with scones, when am I?  

The prospect of suddenly serving tea reminded me to write about the notion of using what we have and letting everyday life be a special occasion. Are you with me? 

I have a little side table in my dining room that I keep stocked for moments like these. It is my go-to place for a small teapot, some cups, sugar cubes, small spoons and paper napkins. I call it my "tea station" but it really serves as a piece of mind. I'm ready - come on over.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Darling Neighborhood Christmas Garland


A little holiday spirit! I found this darling lighted garland of balsa wood houses at Home goods this weekend and couldn't resist putting them on my plate rack and turning them on. Think of them as a cozy neighborhood bustling with Thanksgiving preparations - every house with a can of cranberry on the counter.

There is no marking on the package, no name or manufacturer, just made in China and battery instructions, so I can't give you a link to find it online. It was in a box display at Homegoods - I hope you find one too!

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Apple Peeler Corer Slicer: One of my Favorite Kitchen Tools

We had my parents over for dinner and I knew that they would enjoy helping with the pie prep, so I measured out all of the ingredients for my famous apple pie (called Trick or Pie) and had everything ready. We only needed to peel, core and slice the apples, mix them into the pie ingredients and pour it into the ready made crust.
As we started peeling/slicing/coring the apple, my mom and dad insisted that I blog specifically about this handy dandy tool. I have mentioned it before - it is one of my favorite things - but I agree, it is worthy of the spotlight.

This is the apple peeler corer slicer.  It suctions onto the counter with a lever and makes quick work of apple prep. That is my dad's hand (above), showing you before and after. :)
Anne's Apple Pie (aka Trick or Pie on Halloween) 

1 frozen 9" deep dish pie crust
3 T. melted butter
3 T. flour
1/4 c. honey
1/4 c. apricot jam
1/2 T. dried orange peel
1/2 c. dark brown sugar
1 t. cinnamon
1/8 t. nutmeg (it is the most fun if you use a nutmeg grater & whole nutmeg)
1/2 c. yellow raisins
2 lbs. granny smith apples, peeled, cored & sliced 

Place pie crust into a glass/ceramic pie plate and then place the pie plate onto a cookie sheet (to catch any drippings and make removal from the hot oven easier). Combine pie ingredients (butter through apples) and mix well. Pour into pie shell. 
Delicious Crunchy Topping

1 c. flour
1/2 c. unsalted butter
1/2 c. white sugar

To make the delicious topping, combine flour, butter and sugar in a food processor (or with a pastry blender) and mix until it resembles coarse meal. Sprinkle evenly over the apples and bake at 375* for about an hour or until golden brown.