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!  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.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Food Truck Dish Towels: Modern Art

I have a weakness for dishtowels. My collection is full of French brands and unusual color palates. They are often too beautiful to use and I save them, folded in a drawer, as if I'm waiting for the Queen to come.  I am a proponent of using the beautiful things we have, don't get me wrong, but I have bought so many over the year I can't help but keep a few pristine.

And then I walked into a kitchen store in Ballard, Washington and saw these Food Truck dishtowels. Lighthearted and timely (I was on a mission to eat from food trucks when I was in the Pacific Northwest), these are the ones I chose to hang on the wall as art.

My studio is in transition right now, I've been organizing and planning for a grand new space to create.  Furniture has been moved, storage containers for buttons and ribbon and zippers (oh my!) have been purchased and I am on the hunt for wallpaper.  In the meantime, I knew that these dishtowels would give my studio a touch of whimsy.  

I needed a long pocket along the top of each dishtowel to thread a wooden dowel through. I decided that sturdy grosgrain ribbon (1.5 "wide) would make a perfect "pocket" and I cut a piece the width of each dishtowel. I sewed along the length of the ribbon, at the top and bottom and it created a long smooth pocket. I cut a dowel just wider than each dishtowel, threaded it through the pocket and then cut a length of embroidery floss and tied it to each end. I pushed a thumbtack into the wall and hung the embroidery floss "hanger" over the pin. Voila! 

Simple, inexpensive and FUN artwork for my studio walls. If you'd like to order a set for yourself or a friend, you can find them here.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Ann Arbor's Downtown Home and Garden has Old World Christmas Ornaments

It starts to feel like Christmas when I finally make it to Downtown Home and Garden in Ann Arbor, Michigan. My mom and I always make a day of it and drive to Ann Arbor for lunch and shopping with my Aunt Carol. The excursion wouldn't be complete without a stop at Downtown Home and Garden, formerly Hertler's.

I always find something wonderful to add to my collection, last year it was thin wooden tree silhouettes. I just looked at my blog posts for last December, and the trees aren't in any of the pictures. I'll be sure to highlight them this year.

One of my favorite sections is the glass blown ornament. You can see the wide variety of choices hanging on the pegboard behind the antique oven. They have glass blown ornaments that look like grilled cheese, ribbon candy, cappuccino, cinnamon buns, and many kitchen copper pots and pans. Adorable!
However, my favorite part of the display is hidden from view. The shop girl prompted us to "open the oven and see if it's done." We did gently opened the antique oven's door and found a pie tin filled with slice of pie ornaments. A little bit of humor and delight on a cold winter's day. Bravo.
The treasure I bought this year is a pastel ball ornament garland for my "family" tree. It will bring out the colors (pink, mauve, mint) of my handmade ornaments and bring an old world feel. I can't wait to decorate! It all starts next Friday, the day after Thanksgiving!

Monday, November 17, 2014

Ina Garten's Make It Ahead event at Williams Sonoma

Williams Sonoma helps me dream of the holidays. While some people can't wait to see what is featured in the Neiman Marcus Christmas Book, I look forward to Williams Sonoma's photos of twice baked sweet potatoes and cranberry port chutney.

When I see gravy separators, turkey platters and Emile Henry bake ware, it makes me happy. Dan kids that my experience with any cooking store is more of a "Got it, got it, need it, got it" and can't imagine that there is anything in the catalog that we don't already have. 
So...when I had a chance to join 2 friends at an Ina Garten-themed cooking class at Williams Sonoma, I signed up immediately. The class was called "Make It Ahead" and though we weren't one of the stops on Ina's real "Make It Ahead" Williams Sonoma book tour, we were learning recipes from her new book and received an autographed copy of "Make It Ahead" for our personal library, along with a full Thanksgiving dinner that night.
A local chef had prepared part of each recipe ahead of time, as per the book, and finished each dish in front of us (see overhead mirror, above), highlighting tips and tricks that made each a success.  
We started with a cauliflower and celery root soup and homemade croutons. It was a pleasant soup, but certainly not one I would make on purpose. 
We had mashed potatoes enhanced with goat cheese, minted peas and pancetta, Williams Sonoma gravy and a WS turkey paste-rubbed turkey that was roasted and then carved, cooled and rewarmed for the class. Everything was delicious. My 4 classmates and I were relieved to know that mashed potatoes could indeed to be made, covered, refrigerated and then reheated a day or two later. Someone suggested adding cream cheese to the potatoes if goat cheese seemed to tangy, which would be my choice. The cream cheese would add a bit of a "moisture guarantee" without changing the classic flavors too much. 

The minted peas and pancetta relied on frozen peas, which means they are reliable and readily accessible. Win-win. The WS gravy was very good and is made with their base and then an equivalent jarful of cream, milk or wine in various proportions. It turned out well and was a delicious accompaniment to the turkey and potatoes.
It was a really fun night. We weren't rushed through the recipes and were encouraged to discuss and relate our Thanksgiving challenges and triumphs. Remember when my friends had me host a "Mock Thanksgiving?" 

Williams Sonoma is my home away from home. I am very comfortable there and will certainly be back for another relaxing cooking experience with my friends. Congratulations, Ina, I know that now many home cooks will consider their own recipes and realize just how many can be made ahead. Bravo.

Friday, November 14, 2014

Advent Calendars: My Love Runs Deep

I absolutely love advent calendars. There are so many beautiful designs to choose from. I prefer the flat paper calendars with a winter scene. There is something about the excitement of counting down to a holiday paired with the childlike anticipation of opening a window to see the image of the day. I think having an advent calendar is a perfect way to keep yourself in the moment and aware of where you are in the advent season. 

That said, I am known for not always opening the windows. The scene is often so pretty, that I like to look at it on my refrigerator just as it is. Don't worry though, I have lots of advent calendars around the house and I do keep track of the countdown.  Do you remember this one that looks like a general store?  Or this one I made with paper drawers? I need to get busy finding little items to fill each drawer!

If you love this farm scene advent calendar as much as I do, you can buy it here. I also found some beautiful advent calendars online here

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Philadelphia: Reflections on Liberty

When I was in Philadelphia, I walked around marveling at the fact that the real Independence Hall was still standing. You can see it from a distance below.
I had no idea that I could visit the original Independence Hall, the birthplace of our country. I thought that the building, built between 1732 and 1756, was lost to time and development. When I came out of the underground parking structure, walked through the Visitors Center and came upon this expansive lawn leading up to the Independence Hall, I stopped in my tracks. Wait...what?

I thought Epcot Center and the cartoon depiction in Schoolhouse Rock (around marker 1:14) was all that we had left of this historic landmark. Clearly my high school did not take a field trip to Philadelphia. I was thrilled that I could walk inside the building where our founding fathers defined our country.
This is Congress Hall, inside Independence Hall, where Congress met between 1790-1800.
Also housed in this building is the Pennsylvania Supreme Court Chamber (above), where the highest court in the colonies would meet. My other post about the Liberty Bell and Independence Hall is here.
This is my favorite image from our visit to Philadelphia. The glass wall looks into the Liberty Bell on display. You can see people in line admiring it. Reflecting in the glass is Independence Hall, which is directly behind where I was standing. The second reflection, which I am still puzzled as to how it appeared, is of the American flag on a flagpole outside Independence Hall, blowing in the wind. I call this image, "Reflections on Liberty." 

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Planning for a Pretty Kitchen Sink

I have a weakness for a pretty sponges and soaps at my kitchen sink.  If I am going to spend this much time in the kitchen, my headquarters had better be cute.

I know I can't be the only one that feels this way, so I am posting my latest combination. Palmolive Soft Touch Aloe (chosen for the aqua color) in a limited edition Evian bottle, Caldrea Citron Ginger Hand Soap and an Ocelo sponge from their new Holiday collection. I have a set of Co-Rect Metal Pour Spouts that work really well for dispensing soap, olive oil or any liquid from a repurposed bottle. 

Doesn't it look pretty? These are Visual Vitamins. Do you have certain colors or soaps that make you feel good while your washing the dishes? 

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Amazing Cheesecake with Amaretto Cherries

Nothing says love and friendship like making someone a homemade dessert. It turns coffee into an occasion.  When I was in Seattle, my new friends Kathy, Paula and Mary often invited me out to dinner when Dan was working late. We told stories and were usually the loudest table at the restaurant. Laughter tends to do that. The girls wanted to meet Dan, so we made a plan. I'd go to an early dinner with them and then Dan would meet us at Kathy's house after work for dessert.  Mary offered to make her famous cheesecake and I'm so glad she did! She gave me her blessing to share it with you.
This is her magnificent cheesecake (above). Kathy and I arranged each berry just so and had fun turning on different lights and getting the focus just right. One bite and we knew it was blog-worthy.

I made it for my family this week. I added a graham cracker crust and made a cherry-amaretto topping. Best-Cheesecake-Ever

Cheesecake with Amaretto Cherries

For Crust:
Mix 1 stick of melted salted butter with 2 cups of graham cracker crumbs and 2 Tablespoons of white sugar. Press into ungreased round 9" springform pan. Place in freezer while you make the cheesecake.

For Cheesecake Center:

3 (8 oz) packages of cream cheese (room temp)
5 eggs
1 cup white sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
3/4 teaspoon almond extract

Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Beat cream cheese until smooth. Add one egg at a time. Add sugar, salt and extract. Mix well until smooth and pale lemon color - no lumps. Remove crust from freezer and pour cheesecake filling into it. Place in oven and bake 45-50 minutes. When cooked, remove from oven and allow to cool 20 min on a rack.

For 2nd Layer of Cheesecake:

1 1/2 cups of sour cream, room temp
1/2 teaspoon of vanilla extract
2 Tablespoons of white sugar

Stir ingredients above together. Spread on cheesecake after it has baked and cooled for 20 minutes. Return cheesecake to 325 degree oven for 10 minutes.
Remove from oven and allow to cool. Remove springform ring once cheesecake has cooled.

Cherry Amaretto Topping:

2 cups of frozen pitted tart cherries
2 Tablespoons of white sugar
2 Tablespoons of cornstarch
Generous splash of Amaretto liqueur

Mix cherries, sugar and cornstarch in a small saucepan and bring to a boil. Stir and allow the cherries to melt, give off liquid and let the cornstarch thicken it. It will be glossy and beautiful. Remove from burner and cool. Add liqueur and stir. Spoon over center of cheesecake or slice by slice, as desired. 
Set the table, brew a pot of coffee and Enjoy!

Monday, November 10, 2014

Seattle: Dahlias in Volunteer Park

Next September, when your garden has faded and you can't believe summer is over, find yourself a dahlia garden and rejoice in the bounty of colorful blooms.
A friend told me that I had "visit Volunteer Park in September to see the dahlias" and I kept the reminder in my travel notes for months. Finally, on my third trip to Seattle, it was dahlia season.
The Puget Sound Dahlia Association maintains the large dahlia garden in Seattle's Volunteer Park. It is spectacular. The garden is very tidy and the large well-staked plants tower over the enthusiastic visitors to the park. Every person has a camera or phone in hand capturing the various colors, shapes and sizes. Once you give in and start taking pictures, it's hard to stop. Each one is prettier than the next. And when the sunlight hits them just so...
If you fall in love with a particular shape, order some for your garden! Read about my wonderful visit to The Dahlia Barn, an online source for dahlia tubers.
The joy of gardening is far from over this time of year. You just need to switch gears and invest in some delightful dahlias.