Soups: 2 Recipes for the Cold Months

This morning, with bits of snow still on the ground, a cacophony of birdsong flooded my yard–as if it were spring. 

The sound stopped suddenly, and I supposed this talkative flock had rested in our large magnolia before heading to its destination. I’m taking it as a sign that spring isn’t too far off. 

In the meantime, we still have cold days ahead and I mean to make some favorite soup recipes and keep the fireplace roaring. At least until every morning is filled with birdsong!

Sidenote: Here’s a tip for when you eat out or order in: if you get soup from a restaurant that fails to impress, add butter and a squeeze of lemon. The combination brightens a dull diner soup. For vegetable soups, a teaspoon of basil pesto swirled in, and a sprinkle of parmesan on top, is delicious.

Parisian Potage 

This recipe comes from Jaques Pépin. Recently, he posted a video on Facebook where he made a quick variation of this soup by adding potato flakes instead of chopped potatoes. For a quick lunch, give it a try–adding potato flakes to taste. For either recipe, top with grated gruyere. Potatoes and gruyere cheese are soulmates.

1 tablespoon peanut or vegetable oil

2 tablespoons unsalted butter

1 large leek, damaged outer leaves discarded, split, washed well, and finely minced (3 cups)

1 pound Yukon Gold potatoes, peeled and held in cold water

4 cups (1 quart) homemade chicken stock or canned low-sodium chicken broth

1 cup water

1/2 teaspoon salt, or more to taste

1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

1 tablespoon chopped fresh parsley or chervil

1/2 cup grated Gruyère cheese or a dollop of softened unsalted butter (optional)

INSTRUCTIONS

  1. Heat the oil and butter in a large saucepan. Add the leeks and cook over medium heat for about 3 minutes, stirring occasionally.
  2. Meanwhile, cut the potatoes into sticks about 3/4-inch thick and slice the sticks crosswise into 1/8-inch slivers (you will have about 3 cups). The potatoes should be kept in water after peeling, but they should not be washed after they are cut into slivers; this will wash away their starch, which helps make the soup smooth.
  3. Add the stock, water, salt, and pepper to the leeks, then mix in the potato slivers. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat, and boil gently for about 12 minutes.
  4. Serve the soup with a sprinkling of the parsley or chervil on top and, if you like, the grated cheese or a dollop of butter.

Coconut and Chickpea Soup

This is a variation of Epicurious’ African Curried Coconut Soup with Chickpeas

INGREDIENTS

2 tablespoons canola oil

1 medium onion (about 6 ounces), chopped

1 medium red bell pepper (about 6 ounces), chopped

1 teaspoon chili garlic sauce

2 large cloves garlic, finely chopped

3 cups low-sodium chicken broth

1 (15-ounce) can chickpeas, rinsed and drained

1 cup chopped tomatoes, seeded and peeled, fresh or canned (see Cook’s Tip)

1 teaspoon mild curry powder

1/2 teaspoon salt, or to taste

Freshly ground black pepper, to taste

1 (14-ounce) can coconut milk (not lite)

3/4 cup cooked white or brown rice

2 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro 

Asian fish sauce to taste–or about two teaspoons

Juice from a half of a lime, or to taste

PREPARATION

  1. In a medium stockpot, heat the oil over medium heat. Add the onion and bell pepper: cook, stirring, until softened, about 5 minutes. 
  1. Add the garlic and chili garlic sauce and cook, stirring constantly, 1 minute. Add the broth, chickpeas, tomatoes, curry powder, salt, and black pepper. Bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce the heat and simmer gently, uncovered, stirring occasionally, about 10 minutes. 
  1. Add the remaining ingredients and cook, stirring occasionally, until heated through, about 5 minutes. Serve warm.

To make a heartier supper, add a cup of cooked, chopped chicken to the soup.

Serve with fresh cilantro leaves and lime wedges. 

We hope you enjoy these recipes. Let us know what you think.

Throwing an Intimate Valentine’s Dinner for Two

At the touch of love, everyone becomes a poet. At least according to Plato, who lived well over two thousand years ago.

There’s something comforting in knowing that love hasn’t changed so very much, despite the passing of centuries. It remains undimmed and unweathered. Perhaps the one constant.

If you are fortunate enough to love and be loved, this is the holiday to turn your thoughts towards poetry. But it doesn’t have to be an exercise in actual word crafting, if that’s not your talent. 

Photo by Modern Glam

A careful arrangement of flowers, a poached pear swimming in cream and cinnamon syrup, a room flooded in candlelight: each is a little poem all on its own. Your offering is even more lovely because it reflects the contents of your heart.

Staying in for a romantic evening lends itself to all kinds of creativity. So make your own kind of poetry.

Set the Scene

First, decide what the ideal romantic atmosphere is for you. Just because it’s Valentine’s Day doesn’t mean you have to decorate with pink and purple heart-shaped doilies and gold foil cupids. Every holiday is your holiday, and it doesn’t have to be anything but what you decide.

Consider where you two first met or where you had your first date. Or use elements from a trip you took together. 

Can any of that be recreated? Perhaps a version of a special restaurant’s signature cake, the music that was playing when you first danced, or what you wore and how you did your hair.

Photo by Maringirl

If you’re avid campers, set up the tent in your living room surrounded by candles. Be careful to keep any pets out of the room because tails easily catch fire when a curious furry creature gets too close. (Or, use deep containers like glass vases or mason jars.) A pine bough placed nearby would add a glorious scent of the outdoors while you’re all cozy inside.

Candlelight everywhere, whether you’re campers or not, is always lovely. Have a fireplace? Turn down the thermostat and let the fire roar.

What to Wear

Just because you’re at home doesn’t mean you have to look like it. Dress as if you’re going out to your favorite restaurant. If you would normally wear make up, do so. Or, wear what your partner loves the most. 

Bring the Best of Yourselves: Plan Ahead

In your efforts to give your Love a beautiful evening, don’t overdo it. Don’t let the frazzle of a five-course meal that needs constant care take away from your date. You’ll want to have calm conversation and not end up napping during dessert.

Choose dishes you can make ahead of time. Dip those strawberries early, make that cake the day before. Buy favorite treats such as foil-wrapped hearts and truffles, and display them in a candy dish.

These Greek Salad Skewers with Anchovy Aioli from Food and Wine Magazine can be made up to four days in advance.

For dessert, why not try a Chocolate Budino with Candied Walnuts?

And here’s a recipe for Cold Roast Salmon with Smashed Green Salad from Epicurious that can be made a day before. 

If you prefer your entree warm, have everything else ready and let that be the only element still cooking. 

Avocado butter is the perfect accompaniment to grilled fish. It tastes rather wonderful melting over a piece of chicken or even a steak, too.

This recipe for avocado butter is from George and Piret Munger of Piret’s restaurant in Southern California. The restaurant itself is, sadly, long gone and their marvelous cookbook out of print. Their farmhouse French food, served amidst bright copper pots and a black and white checkerboard floor, was a memorable experience. 

They served this butter with grilled swordfish steaks marinated in soy sauce, lemon juice and zest, garlic, oil, and dijon mustard. But, like we said, this goes well with any grilled fish. 

Avocado Butter

½ cup butter

½ cup ripe mashed avocado

5 tablespoons fresh lemon or lime juice

2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley

2 cloves garlic, minced

Salt, to taste

Whip the butter in a small mixing bowl until it is soft and creamy. Beat in the remaining ingredients. Refrigerate until ready to serve.

Happy Valentine’s Day!

Valentine Cookie Knockouts: Using Marzipan

When travel is a possibility again, and should you find yourself going to Austria, prepare for requests from friends and family asking you to bring back chocolate. 

Those in the know will ask for little round balls of pistachio marzipan dipped in light and dark pralines, covered in dark chocolate. Each is wrapped in foil that’s stamped with a portrait of the musical master himself: Mozart. 

Mozartkulgen is a traditional favorite and a popular souvenir of the city of Salzburg. After touring the Sound of Music sites, the cathedrals, the fortress, the marionette theater, and Mozart’s birthplace, no one wants to miss picking up a box or two of Salzburg’s famous delicacies.

Marzipan for Valentine’s Day

With Valentine’s Day around the corner, I’ve been thinking about marzipan–which is a sugared almond paste. Godiva, apparently, sells chocolate-covered marzipan hearts for the holiday, but going by the public outcry online, the coveted creations are hard to come by. 

Frosted Heart Shape Cookie recipe by Delish

Frosted heart-shaped cookies make an excellent gift, especially when they’re handmade and beautifully decorated. Although fondant allows you to be more intricate with your creations, it doesn’t add anything to the deliciousness of your baked goods. A simple powdered sugar and butter frosting tastes much better on top of the perfect crisp sprinkle cookie.

Now I’ve used marzipan twisted into braided bread and as an ingredient in cake, but I’ve never considered putting it into a cookie recipe before. But it makes sense. Marzipan is an excellent replacement for fondant because it has a lovely flavor .

This year, make your favorite sprinkle cookie recipe, but  substitute the vanilla with almond extract. This will mirror the taste of the almond paste in the cookie. Also keep in mind that people often flavor marzipan. Orange is a particular favorite.

You can purchase red or pink marzipan, or make your own recipe like this at Partylicious. You’ll need to use a gel food coloring, like you would if you were using fondant. Once you have the mixture rolled out, use a smaller (than you used for the cookie base) heart-shaped cookie cutter to make the marzipan hearts. Carefully place them on the cookies before the frosting dries out. 

If you’d like the traditional chocolate/marzipan combination, use chocolate frosting. Pink or red on top of chocolate frosting with some sprinkles around the edges would make a lovely presentation. 

East Marbled Fondant Valentine’s Day Cookie Recipe

Tips For Making Marzipan from Partylicious:

  1. If you mix it too long and it starts to get oily and shiny, wrap tightly in plastic wrap and let it cool for 15-30 minutes.  It should start to reabsorb some of the oils. Add more powdered sugar while rolling out the marzipan until it is a consistency you feel comfortable working with.
  2. You can color marzipan with gel food coloring the same as you would fondant.
  3. When rolling it out, use a slip mat or parchment paper lightly covered in powdered sugar. This helps the marzipan to not stick.
  4. Keep wrapped tightly in plastic wrap when not using. The marzipan will dry out if uncovered too long.
  5. Keep stored in the refrigerator when not using.
  6. You want to use this very soon after you make it. It will keep in the fridge 1-2 days.

After some searching, I was able to find another site that also came up with the idea of topping sprinkle cookies with marzipan. This recipe comes from Canada.They don’t frost the cookies first. Instead, they brush honey on the cookies to attach a marzipan layer and then decorate the marzipan with sprinkles, gold leaf, and non pareils.  Check out the recipe at Canadian Living for more inspiration.

Happy Valentine’s Day!

3 Ways to Make Life More Beautiful in the New Year

There’s very little to be said about 2020 that hasn’t already been said. At its best, the year was a surprise and a challenge. At its worst, for those who’ve battled illness or lost loved ones, 2020  was absolutely devastating. 

In difficult times, choosing joy despite the challenges we face can be an act of bravery. 

Now, we have a new year before us. One we can fill however we like. We may not be able to control all the events in our lives, but we can choose how to respond. No doubt, the time ahead will bring its own challenges and joys, and we can choose to add as much light and beauty in the new year, come what may.

Make and Enjoy Good Art

In a stirring graduation speech, author Neil Gaiman said:

“Life is sometimes hard. Things go wrong, in life and in love and in business and in friendship and in health and in all other ways that life can go wrong. And when things get tough, this is what you should do. Make good art.”

He didn’t say it had to be perfect or Mozart-level genius art. But we can channel our experiences into art and be better for it.

Swannannoa [Oil on Canvas] by Carrie Allen

For some reason, we don’t think we have to be professionals to play tennis or sing in the shower. We think there’s something shameful in writing a poem if we’re not Lorca or painting a landscape if we’re not Monet.

However, we are made up of how we spend our time. The act of creation shapes us into something better.

According to oilpixel.com, “Art in any form, whether while creating or observing, reduces the stress hormone called cortisol. It also releases the feel-good hormones called endorphins which helps you combat stress and pain. By letting you enjoy a sense of fulfillment, it transforms you into a more positive, well-rounded human being.”

To make your life more beautiful, consider adding more art to your life. Dust off those paintbrushes, get your piano tuned, take up the ukulele. Create, and you’ll reduce your stress and invite more happiness into your life. 

Sometimes people don’t realize that beautifying their home or making an exquisite dinner are forms of art too. But they are. A salad can be a poem. Especially if there are strawberries involved.

Artistry in nature can be breathtaking. Bring elegant, natural elements into your home to reflect the beauty and colors we find in the outdoors. Different textures are an essential detail to frame the smoother, softer palettes you have probably already chosen in your decorating. 

In the end, decorating, baking, writing, painting, sculpting, and all other forms of creation make life more glorious.

Besides, if you devote your time and effort, maybe you will make Beauty. Maybe you’ll get better at it.  Maybe you’ll find you’re even good at it.

Help Others

“I don’t know what your destiny will be, but one thing I know: … the only ones among you who will be really happy are those who have sought and found how to serve.” ― Albert Schweitzer

Over the years, we’ve learned that “Scientific research provides compelling data to support the anecdotal evidence that giving is a powerful pathway to personal growth and lasting happiness.” 

As we mature, we realize that giving is more satisfying than receiving. Giving doesn’t have to be a financial gift. Volunteering our time to worthy causes boosts our happiness and leads to a better quality of life. Find something you’re passionate about and champion that cause.

In the spirit of giving, one great way to give back is to:

Support Artists

In a world that uses art to survive, but undervalues its artists, support those who make life more beautiful with their creations.

Buy books from Indie publishers so the author will get the standard royalty from the purchase. Go to local galleries and shows, and buy the artist’s work when a piece of art stirs something in you. Promote authors and their work on social media and invite your friends to their events.

Filling your life with beauty, and helping others, might be the best ways to increase your hope and happiness. 

You’ll find combining the two can be miraculous.

7 Last-Minute Easy Holiday Gift Ideas

There are people in our lives who are a dream to shop for. There’s the aunt who is thrilled to receive the latest National Book Award winner or a pair of clunky, silver earrings, your nephew who is perfectly happy with a new t-shirt, and the cousin who collects teapots and can never get enough.

Then there are those that don’t have any identifiable hobby or interests. Or, if they do, you’d have to mortgage the house to buy anything they’d want. When we do our holiday shopping, we tend to procrastinate purchasing gifts for our difficult friends and family and buy easier presents first. I suppose we hope inspiration will strike as we browse.

When it doesn’t, then we’re in for a last-minute scramble to find the perfect gift for a perfectly difficult recipient.

Here are some suggestions.

Alpaca Socks

You know times have changed when your favorite gift under the tree is a pair of socks. With this silky-soft alpaca footwear, however, your change of heart from when you were a child is perfectly reasonable. 

The Nordic Star pattern is particularly lovely, and the striped socks are stylishly fun.

S’mores Kit

Especially wonderful for families, this stainless steel s’mores maker lets families have the fun of toasting marshmallows and sandwiching them in a gooey chocolate and graham cracker sandwich without having to brave the winter weather.

Earrings

The ever-popular Kendra Scott Earrings come in a variety of materials including onyx, mother of pearl, rose quartz and more. With the introduction of the Elle design, Kendra Scott stood out at the Bloomingdales’ jewelry counter and ensured a flurry of compliments from wearers.

The company also carries engravable, delicate bracelets and necklaces for your special someone. These graceful pieces have the on-trend daintiness that’s particularly sought after this year.

Bonus: Kendra Scott’s website states “We believe in a world in which all women and children live their brightest, healthiest, and most empowered lives.” In other words, a portion of your purchases is used to support programs to help women and children.

Tea of the Month

There are many companies out there who will send your giftee a monthly selection of fragrant and flavorful tea.

Plum Deluxe, for instance, hand blends their tea in small batches to ensure fresh flavor and aroma. They use organic, fair-trade sourced ingredients, and are committed to non-GMO, no corn, no soy, no gluten and no dairy products. Their Santa’s Blend of blueberry and cinnamon is only available in December.

Charge and Clean

The PhoneSoap Smartphone Sanitzer cleans your phone while it charges. 

PhoneSoap is happy to inform you that your phone is 18 times dirtier than a public restroom. Don’t click on their tutorial, it’s too disturbing. All you need to know is that your phone is crawling with bacteria; you don’t need to know any more details of how it got that way.

Perfect for a germaphobe–or for anyone, really–this device helps keep you free from the illnesses we can pick up when we’re out and about.

Future Travel Plans

For your wanderlusting relative, who is probably climbing the walls at this point of the pandemic, give them some hope for the times to come. This scratch-off map allows them to remove the exciting gold film covering the countries of the world. They can scratch off where they’ve already been and plan for the future when they’ll be off to foreign climes to hear the chatter of foreign tongues.

Hand Block-Printed Scarf

Many of our customers may be unaware of all of our products. Besides table and kitchen linens, we also carry scarves.

Handcrafted and made out of 100% natural mill-made voile cotton, our women’s scarves are lightweight and semi-sheer. They are comfortable for all-day wear during any season and in any climate. Available in elegantly modern prints and colors, our cotton scarves are 46” x 78”. This larger size makes for easy wrapping and draping, so you can wear one as a wrap or a scarf.

Happy holidays!

Delicious English Holiday Recipes

When we think of a traditional Christmas celebration, we tend to think of caroling, wrapping and unwrapping packages, the holly and the ivy, mistletoe, special family moments and food we only get to eat once a year. Basically, a scene straight out of “A Christmas Carol”.

Charles Dickens didn’t invent Christmas, however, but he certainly gave it a much-needed resuscitation. 

According to the Guardian, “Britain’s newly urban population didn’t have much energy or opportunity to celebrate it, thanks to the extremely un-festive combination of long hours of unregulated industrial toil and displacement from the rural communities they’d grown up in.” 

Apparently not the only one who tried to give Christmas a jumpstart, “Dickens was the most successful of numerous cultured Victorians keen to revive the season.”

Since we get our idea of Christmas from Dickens, why not try a couple of traditional English recipes?

Christmaspudding

Christmas Pudding

First off, as you probably know, a traditional Christmas pudding is more of a soft, fruity cake than a gelatinous mass with marshmallows or whipped cream on top. This classic recipe is from Saveur, and is served with whipped cream.

Yield: makes 2

Ingredients

  • 2 cups quality assorted raisins
  • 2 cups brandy
  • 1 12 oz. quality assorted candied fruits, such as pitted apricots, cherries, melon and citrus peel, cut into thin strips
  • 5 tbsp cold beef suet or butter, diced
  • 1 34 cups fine day-old bread crumbs
  • 1 cup blanched almond meal
  • 14 cup dark muscovado sugar
  • 3 tbsp flour
  • 2 tbsp shredded unsweetened coconut
  • 2 tbsp finely grated peeled carrot
  • 12 tsp finely grated lemon zest
  • 14 tsp finely grated orange zest
  • 1 pinch ground cinnamon
  • 1 pinch freshly grated nutmeg
  • 1 egg
  • 12 tsp dark treacle or molasses
  • 13 cup Guinness stout
  • 2 tbsp fresh orange juice
  • 34 tsp fresh lemon juice

Instructions

  1. Macerate raisins in brandy for 1 hour. Drain, reserving 13 cup of the brandy. Preheat the oven to 450°.
  2. Put raisins, candied fruits, suet or butter, bread crumbs, almond meal, sugar, flour, coconut, carrots, zests, cinnamon and nutmeg into a large bowl and stir well. Combine egg and treacle or molasses in another bowl. Stir in beer, juices and reserved brandy, add to fruit mixture and mix until evenly moist. Pack half the batter into each of 2 greased 2 ½-cup glazed-ceramic or glass bowls (about 3″ deep × 5″ wide). Cover each bowl with 2 layers of wax paper, then foil; secure with twine. Put bowls on a rack set in a wide deep pot. Add boiling water to the pot to reach 2″ up sides of bowls. Cover pot and steam puddings in the oven, replenishing water as necessary, for 4 12 hours.
  3. Remove bowls from the pot and let cool. Store puddings in a cool, dark, dry spot (or refrigerate) for at least 1 day and up to 2 years. If storing for longer than 1 day, replace covers. Reheat puddings by steaming them, still covered, for 1 hour. Unmold onto plates.

Traditional-English-Trifle-9-660x440

Traditional English Trifle

This trifle recipe comes from That Skinny Chick Can Bake

Ingredients

  •  10 ounces pound cake (I used a Sara Lee frozen pound cake)
  •  1/2 cup seedless raspberry jam
  •  12 ounces fresh raspberries (reserve a few to garnish the top of your trifle)
  •  2 cups heavy cream
  •  1/2 cup sugar
  •  6 egg yolks
  •  1 teaspoon vanilla
  •  2 tablespoons Grand Marnier
  •  1 1/4 cups heavy cream
  •  1/4 cup powdered sugar
  •  1/2 teaspoon vanilla
  •  Sliced almonds to garnish, if desired

Instructions

  • Cut the pound cake into bite-sized cubes. Spread some jam on half the cubes and place in the bottom of a trifle dish. Spread jam on the rest of the cake and set aside.
  • Sprinkle half the Grand Marnier, then half the raspberries over the cake layer.
  • Make creme anglaise by heating the 2 cups of cream in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Beat together the egg yolks with the sugar until thick and pale yellow. Set aside.
  • Just before the cream starts to boil, remove from heat. Very slowly drizzle some of the hot cream into the sugar/yolk mixture while beating or whisking constantly.
  • Return the mixture to the pan and cook over low until mixture thickens and can coat a spoon. For the smoothest texture, do not allow it to boil. Run through a strainer if desired. Allow to cool before adding to the trifle.
  • When the creme anglaise is cool, pour about half in the middle of the trifle, then layer more cake, sprinkle with the rest of the Grand Marnier and raspberries, then the rest of the creme anglaise.
  • Whip the 2 cups of heavy cream with the powdered sugar and vanilla until soft peaks form. Smooth whipped cream over the top of the trifle and garnish with raspberries and almonds, if desired.

That takes care of dessert for Christmas Eve and Christmas Day! We hope you have a lovely, lovely day.

Happy holidays!

“I will honour Christmas in my heart, and try to keep it all the year. I will live in the Past, the Present, and the Future. The Spirits of all Three shall strive within me. I will not shut out the lessons that they teach.”

Charles Dickens, A Christmas Carol

3 Holiday Tablescaping Elements That Use Glass Etching

Setting a beautiful table where friends and family can gather is a gift. 

During the holidays, this gift becomes profoundly beautiful, turning our special moments into memorable events. The food, the setting and the company are all particularly important. 

A simple way to take an elegant table and turn it into a work of art is to align your setting with the season. It doesn’t take much effort to reflect the winter wonderland that’s all around us in the colder months. Add a little shimmer and shine, candles and maybe a few rustic elements to mirror a woodsy winter scene, such as pine cones and perhaps a garland.

Our tablecloths in pewter would be perfect for a frosty table setting, or one in linnet green if you want a background with an evergreen vibe.

One crafty way to personalize a holiday table has been around for years, with the modern version starting in the 1800s. It’s the art of etching and it’s particularly well-suited for entertaining during special occasions, and it’s easier than you think. 

How it Works

Etching allows you to alter glass surfaces to create your own designs. You’re creating art on the surface of glass by applying abrasive substances. The removal of glass causes the rough surface and translucent quality of frosted glass.

Basically, you take a sheet of vinyl with an adhesive back, sketch your design and cut it out. You then keep the sheet with the negative space, peel off the adhesive and stick it to the glass surface. Apply etching cream, available at craft stores, and allow it to set for several minutes.

Wipe away the cream, wash it off, and you have a new frosted glass design.

But be aware that etched glass is permanent! Also, don’t include the children in this process. The caustic nature of etching cream limits the possibility of making this a family project.

Here are a few ways to use the method for your tablescaping.

1.Personalized Goblets

What makes this accent fun is each guest gets their own goblet with their name frosted onto the glass. Use plain goblets, nothing with too much scrollwork or design elements already in play. 

With lettering, you’ll probably want to choose some vinyl stencils with an appropriate font, unless you have excellent penmanship and the ability to cut out tiny details with perfect accuracy. Cursive lettering is especially nice for a special occasion.

Of course, the personalized goblet’s main function is as an elegant place card, without taking up any extra space on your table. But the personalization will also allow your guests to mingle without becoming confused over which drink is theirs. The goblets will also make the members of your party feel like an important part of the night’s festivities since you took the time to etch their names into the place settings.

Don’t be tempted to alter your great-grandmother’s crystal goblets or anything that has a special place in your heart or family traditions. 

Pick up an inexpensive set from a chain store and you won’t regret your arts and craft moment.

2.Other Placeholders

If you don’t love the idea of goblets as a placeholder, you can also pick up a pack of small oval or round mirrors at a craft store that you can etch for your guests and will catch the light nicely on your table. Or, a personal favorite, order and etch some glass ornaments that also serve as a present for each of your guests. For example, a star or a glass reindeer ornament placed artistically near each place setting adds a lovely touch and is a meaningful memento of the evening.

3.Centerpiece

There is nothing quite like candlelight to bring a magical glow to a dinner party. The soft romantic light brings a traditional warmth to your gathering and reflects off of your glassware, filling the creative space like starlight.

You can double the effect with a mirror or similar reflective surface under the candles, like a wintry, frozen lake. You can also mark the importance of the occasion by etching your own design around the edge, and perhaps including the date and family name. 

Instead of a surface for candles, you could choose a glass container for flowers, Christmas crackers, Christmas pudding or other holiday fare. If you have a family crest, by all means, etch away. Use your imagination and your artistry.

Happy Holidays!

3 Delicious Pumpkin Recipes

The powers that be must have invented pumpkins with all their wonderful culinary possibilities to comfort small children who had to go back to school.

Children may dread the end of summer, but pumpkin pies, cupcakes, velvety soups and toasted pumpkin bread seem to somehow make up for the loss of those endless free days.

Then there’s the crunch of the leaves underfoot and then the fun of coming up with costumes for Halloween, with the promise of more holidays around the corner. Whether it’s Hanukkah, Christmas or Kwanza, these special occasions make up the magic in our childhoods.

Autumn also lends its magic to grownups, too. One taste of fine pumpkin bread and we’re transported to those days all over again. It’s also a wonderful time to entertain.

With that in mind, we thought we’d share some of our favorite pumpkin recipes to share with your family and neighbors. Nothing fills a home with so much warmth as the scent of spices we use in pumpkin dishes.

Click here for Half Baked Harvest’s luscious Cinnamon Swirl Chocolate Chip Pumpkin Butter Bread that’s made with actual pumpkin puree, but also gets its velvety quality from pumpkin butter. 

The wonderful thing about pumpkin butter is you can make a ton and freeze it in small portions so you can swirl it into your yogurt or oatmeal, serve it on top of waffles, and of course, top off your toast with all that pumpkiny goodness. 

Best of all, you get to make Half Baked Harvest’s pumpkin bread that’s nice and crisp on the outside, with a perfect tenderness on the inside.

Pumpkin Butter Recipe

  • 2 15-ounce cans pumpkin purée (not pumpkin pie filling)
  • 1/2  cup brown sugar
  • 1/4 cup maple syrup
  • 1/2 cup apple cider
  • 2 teaspoons  lemon juice
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 2 1/2 tsp pumpkin pie spice 
  • 1 pinch pink Himalayan salt

Instructions

Combine all the ingredients in a large saucepan over medium-high heat and stir.

When it begins to bubble, reduce heat to low and simmer. 

Cook, uncovered, for 35 minutes or so, stirring occasionally. 

Taste and adjust seasonings as needed, adding more maple syrup or brown sugar to taste.

Once cooled completely, transfer to a container and store in the refrigerator for up to 3 weeks, or freeze in single portion servings for up to two months.

You can freeze the puree in ice cube trays and pop them out into a Ziploc bag for an ideal way to store single servings. You may have an automatic ice maker, but you’ll want to keep trays to freeze the pumpkin butter and save it to use in other sauces, chicken broth, and berry topping for smoothies, yogurt and ice cream.

For the next recipe, pumpkin pie purists may protest, but there is something about a pumpkin pie that’s light and airy but still has all the flavor of the traditional dense variety.

Pumpkin Chiffon Pie

Combine the following ingredients in a saucepan:

  • 3/4 cup brown sugar
  • 1/2  tsp salt
  • 1/4 tsp ginger 
  • 1/2 tsp nutmeg
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 1 envelope unflavored gelatin

Separate the yolk and the whites of three eggs. Slightly beat the egg yolks and stir in 3/4 cup whole milk. Add this mixture to the saucepan and cook on medium heat, stirring, until the mixture boils. 

Remove the pan from the heat and stir in 1 ¼ cup canned pumpkin. Place this mixture in the fridge until it mounds, but is not too stiff. 

In the meantime, beat the reserved egg whites with 1/3 cup sugar in a mixer until it forms soft peaks. 

Take the pumpkin mixture out of the refrigerator and mix it with 1 tsp. rum flavoring. Stir in 3/4 cup chopped pecans (optional) and gently fold the fluffy egg whites into the pumpkin mixture and pour into a baked pie shell. Chill. Garnish with whipped cream right before serving.

As for the pie crust, I’ve always used a traditional flaky crust, but most chiffon pie recipes rely on a graham cracker crust. If you’re using the pecans in the pie recipe, I would recommend stirring in a half cup of chopped pecans into the graham cracker crust like this recipe here.

I recommend using the pecans and the rum flavoring, unless you have nut allergies because the combination of the two really make this airy pie different from any I’ve ever tasted.

We hope you enjoy these recipes as much as we have, friends. Leave a note on the comments and let us know how they worked for you. Even better, send us a picture!

A Guide to Creating Fall Jam

Fall is such a sublime season. When we’re hiking through the mountains, the vibrant color changes give us such breathtaking beauty wherever we look. Even the air tastes different. If there were one season you could capture and bottle up for remembering and future savoring, this would be my choice.

And good news! We can.

Most people think about making jam when berries are at their richest and ripest, neglecting the more golden autumnal variety. This is a huge mistake. You’ll agree if you’ve ever tasted a bit of fig jam spooned over goat cheese or my favorite pear jam paired with … anything. Including eaten straight out of the jar with a spoon. 

Berries make a luscious jam, of course, but you don’t want to miss out on the warm flavors of autumn, too. Try pear jam with a wonderful crusty bread and goat cheese, or a touch of gorgonzola sprinkled on top, and your day takes on a hint of magic.

Homemade jam also makes a thoughtful gift. If you want to get a jump on the holidays, a jam made with wine is the perfect accompaniment to crackers and cheese, but also a nice sauce for many main dishes.

Are You Up for the Challenge?

First of all, don’t get intimidated. Canning looks difficult, but it’s actually not that hard. If you have the basic equipment and pot, you won’t struggle.

All you’re really doing is cooking the fruit, pectin, sugar and spices together in a pot, loading the mixture into jars with a funnel, wiping down the mouths of the jars, covering and then boiling the jars together so they’re safe to store on your shelves. Another bonus is that you’re doing this in the right season. Canning in the summertime is more grueling because of the heat.

To get you started, here are two exceptional jams we make in our own home.

Spiced Pear Jam

  • 8 cups chopped pears
  • 4 cups of sugar
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • splash of vanilla
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
  • 6 half-pint ball jars

Prepare jars in a hot boiling water bath to sterilize. In a large pot or dutch oven, combine all the ingredients and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer, uncovered, until thick, typically 1 1/2 to 2 hours, stirring occasionally. As the jam starts to thicken stir more frequently.

Remove from heat and ladle into sanitized, hot half-pint ball jars, leaving 1/4 inch at the top of the jar. Remove any air bubbles, wipe the rim of the jars clean and adjust the rims and lids. Process for 10 minutes in a water canner or submerge in a large pot of boiling water for 10 minutes. Remove carefully and let cool.

This recipe does not require pectin.

Spiced Plum Jam

  • 8 cups pitted and chopped plums
  • 3 1/2 cups sugar
  • Juice and zest of 1 lemon
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground clove
  • 2 (3-ounce) packets liquid pectin
  • 4 1 pint jars or 8 half-pint jars

Prepare jars in a hot boiling water bath to sterilize. Combine the plums and sugar in a large pot and stir to mix the plum juices and sugar while heating to a boil, and then add the lemon juice, zest, cinnamon, nutmeg and cloves. Let the jam continue to cook for 15 – 20 minutes, until it looks like a thick syrup. Add the pectin and bring to a rolling boil for 5 minutes. It will be done when it is thick and shiny.

Remove the pot from the heat and ladle into the prepared jars. Wipe the rims and adjust the lids and rings then place in boiling water for 10 minutes. Make sure that the water completely covers the lids.

Either of these recipes are wonderful with toast, cheese, or poured over vanilla ice cream.

Don’t forget to try your hand at apple or pumpkin butter. Of course, fruit butters are a divine topping for toast, but they also pair beautifully with yogurt or oatmeal. Serve either meal with chopped pecans, too, and you have the makings of a memorable meal. You can also cook fruit butters in your slow cooker and your house will smell wonderful. 

If you try your hand at a lemon jam, try serving it with Cypress Creamery’s Purple Haze: a fresh goat cheese flavored with lavender and fennel pollen. The two together make a stunning combination. Add fresh blackberries to the plate for absolute perfection.

Thank you for checking in with our blog today. We’re so pleased to have a part in the creation of your gracious home. 

Enjoy the recipes!

How to Create the Perfect Tablescape For Your Next Dinner Party

Throwing a dinner party is an art form all on its own. It’s an act of creation that can fill the hearts of your guests with warmth and memories for years to come. This kind of hosting takes finesse, taste and generosity.

But it doesn’t have to be difficult. 

In fact, if you’re at ease and comfortable during the party, your guests will also be relaxed. A few simple touches create a beautiful space that you and your guests can enjoy together. This kind of artistry promotes conversation and makes your delectable meal taste even better. 

The Lighting

The time and the season should greatly influence your dinner plans. If you’re throwing your get-together during the summer, there should be an abundance of natural lighting you can use to your advantage. If you’re inside, keep the curtains open and let the light pour in to reflect off the elements on the table. Consider using shimmering glassware or perhaps deeper, colored glass like cobalt blue or lemon yellow.

Have candles nearby that you can light when the sunlight fades to create an atmosphere of intimacy.

If your party is during colder months, adjust your lighting to suit the mood your striving for. You can use lower lighting from electrical sources and light candles, or keep the chandelier cheerfully blazing. 

For Starters: Food That Decorates

When your guests begin to gather, consider having a platter with fruit and cheese available while they wait for the rest of the guests or for dinner to be served. 

Nothing creates a more lovely tablescape than dusky grapes spilling over themselves, surrounded by pears, apples and berries. Leave the cheese in wedges with small knives so guests can cut their own portions. Small plates your guests can hold while mingling with each other is a necessity!

Even if it’s nothing more than water, make sure to have drinks available for thirsty guests. 

Linens

For Boho chic and charm, mix and match our hand block print linen tablecloths and napkins. You can achieve a softer, more subdued table with colors like pewter or sparrow, or use one of our more neutral tablecloths to mix with any of our napkins in more vivid colors.

A festive, vibrant look is easily achieved with a “Here Comes the Sun” tablecloth in cardinal red or tanager yellow. Match with napkins in a complementary color

Decorative Touches

Heaps of blossoms or an interesting arrangement of greenery is a lovely focal point. Think less centerpiece and more of a natural touch to bring out the beauty of your table. If you’re using the fruit platter as the decor idea, you can leave that front and center with a few blossoms tucked here and there for contrast. 

However, if the appetizer proved popular and was decimated by your hungry guests, remove the platter.

A runner of flowers or greenery that curves down the center of the table is a lovely style. You don’t need to spend a lot of money to achieve this look. You can also use accents from the seasons like pine, mini pumpkins, or small eucalyptus branches interwoven with simple white blooms. 

The benefit of a runner is you can easily place food around the decoration, or arrange the runners around serving dishes, and no one’s view is blocked from anyone they want to talk to—which is a common problem with tall centerpieces.

The Art of the Dinner Party

As life gets busier and we tend to be more isolated from each other, throwing a dinner party is an act of love. In addition to your beautiful tablescape, have some soft music playing that doesn’t interfere with the conversation but does promote a mood of friendship and serenity. 

Consider choosing a menu that can be made in advance as much as possible. This way you can mingle with your guests and make them feel welcome and relaxed. 

Be sure to find out any food allergies your guests may have or any expectations. They may think you know they’re vegan. They may be wrong.

Nothing spoils a dinner faster than not being able to serve one or more guests, so be prepared. If people can’t eat, the tablescape won’t make up the difference, no matter how elegant or charming. 

Best wishes for a fabulous party!

5 Fall Dinner Recipes Your Guests Will Love

Autumn may be the loveliest time to host a cozy supper. The fiery heat of summer is fading and the air is gentler and the light is golden. 

Outdoor entertaining is still an option and has the advantage of flickering candlelight as the sun sets sooner. As the air cools, insects make themselves scarce and we can enjoy each other’s company without suffering the presence of theirs.

It’s perfect.

It’s also a wonderful time to hit the Farmers Markets and snag some seasonal gems. You’ll get the freshest, brightest vegetables and also be supporting your local farmers. Here are several of my favorite recipes that you’ll love.

Pesto

Pesto gives a powerhouse boost of flavor to your recipes, whether you’re adding a dollop or featuring it as the main ingredient. Take a regular soup and add some pesto and you have a dish that everyone in the family will be begging for seconds!

It’s also a fairly simple process to make your own pesto at home.

Easy Homemade Basil Pesto and Pasta

This pesto is rich in flavor and super easy to make, especially during late summer / early fall when you have loads of fresh basil in your garden. 

Ingredients:

  • 2 cups packed fresh basil leaves
  • 1/2 cup freshly grated parmesan
  • 1/2 cup (4 oz) pine nuts
  • 4 cloves of garlic
  • 1/3 cup olive oil
  • Salt and pepper to taste

 Put all of the ingredients in the bowl of a food processor and blend till smooth but still a little chunky.  

Prepare 1 box of your favorite pasta – I prefer fusilli because it holds the pesto in the curls to give you a sensational flavor with each bite. 

Toss the warm pasta with all of the pesto.  Add more olive oil, salt and pepper to taste.  Sprinkle parmesan cheese on top.

Garnish with a cluster of basil leaves tucked in at the edge of the pasta, and a few sliced grape tomatoes for a pop of color, if you’d like.

 *The pesto can last in an airtight container for a week but I prefer to use it all at once so it’s super fresh. 

Minestrone Soup

This is a basic minestrone recipe, but you can use any vegetables you have on hand. Feel free to substitute chicken broth for vegetable, if you’d prefer. 

Ingredients:

  • 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 small onion, diced
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 cup diced leeks, white part only
  • 2 stalks celery, diced
  • 1 large carrot, diced
  • 1 cup diced zucchini
  • 8 cups low-sodium chicken broth
  • 1 14-ounce can crushed tomatoes
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 1 teaspoon dried basil
  • Pink salt and freshly ground pepper
  • 1 15-ounce can cannellini beans
  • 1 cup frozen peas
  • 1 cup cooked elbow macaroni
  • 1 spoonful of basil pesto per bowl, depending on taste
  • 1/4 cup finely grated parmesan cheese
  • 2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh basil

Heat the oil in a large pot over medium heat. When hot, add onions and stir until softened. Add the garlic, and stir for a minute. Add the rest of the vegetables through the carrot, and stir occasionally until all are softened about five minutes.

Add the rest of the ingredients through the seasonings. Cook, partially covered, until all the vegetables are soft, about twenty minutes.

Add pasta, beans, and peas and cook for a few minutes longer.

Ladle the soup into bowls and swirl in the basil pesto, only going in one direction. Don’t stir it completely into the soup so a green thread of pesto shows.

Top with a sprinkle of parmesan cheese and basil, for a gorgeous presentation.

Roasted Vegetables 

Remember what we said about the farmers market? Roasting brings out a vegetable’s sweetness and flavor. 

You’ll want to choose vegetables that will cook together and finish in about the same amount of time. Root vegetables work particularly well together, but really, you can make almost any vegetable work. 

Simple Roasted Vegetables

Ingredients:

  • 2 lbs vegetables like squash, parsnips, carrots,
  • 2 medium red, quartered
  • 1 tablespoon chopped fresh thyme
  • Extra-virgin olive oil
  • Pink salt
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/3 cup thyme leaves, stripped from their stems for garnish

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Peel and cut the vegetables into equal-sized pieces, about 1-in chunks. Toss the vegetables and thyme in olive oil in a large bowl and season generously with salt and pepper.

Spread the pieces out in a single layer on sheets or shallow baking pans so that the vegetables don’t touch. Roast until the veggies are browned and just tender, about 45 minutes or so. The time will depend on your vegetable choice.

Toss veggies with additional olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Sprinkle with thyme for a lovely presentation.

Roasted Vegetables in Phyllo

Speaking of a beautiful presentation, you can chop up those cooled, roasted vegetables and serve them in phyllo dough cups. You’ll find phyllo dough in the frozen section of your market.

Ingredients:

  • Vegetables from the previous recipe, chopped small
  • Several sheets of phyllo dough, thawed
  • 3/4 cup shredded cheese such as Swiss, Havarti, or Gruyere 
  • Olive oil for brushing

Stack 5-7 sheets of phyllo, depending on how thick you want the vegetable tarts. Any other sheets you’re using, keep under a damp cloth.

Brush each sheet carefully with the olive oil. Take each little stack and push them into an oiled muffin tin slot. Add 1/4 cup of vegetables and sprinkle with cheese. Fold over the phyllo dough towards the middle. The vegetables will be mostly covered.

Repeat the process so you have 12 vegetable tartlets. Bake at 350 degrees until the phyllo dough is browned, about thirty minutes.

If you’re using a tart cheese like feta or goat cheese, don’t use thyme when you roast the vegetables, Instead, mince a handful of fresh dill and fold into the vegetable mixture with the cheese before you scoop it into the phyllo cups.

Serve warm.

Chicken

A few touches can make a simple chicken dish into an extraordinary feast. Here, dates and green olives make this delicious main dish memorable.

Rustic Farmhouse Chicken

This recipe was inspired by The Silver Palate’s Chicken Marbella, which I first came across in 1991! It’s been a favorite over the years and I have adapted it to make it my own for ease of prep and ingredients. This is great for a crowd and the prep the night before makes it stress-free. 

Ingredients:

  • 8 – 10 skinless, boneless chicken thighs
  • 1 head of garlic, peeled and finely pureed (I use a garlic press)
  • 1/4 cup dried oregano
  • 1/2 cup red wine vinegar
  • 1/2 cup olive oil
  • 1 cup chopped fresh Medjool dates
  • 1/2 cup pitted Spanish green olives
  • 1/2  cup capers with a bit of juice
  • 6 bay leaves
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 1 cup brown sugar
  • 1 cup white wine
  • 1/4 cup chopped parsley

 

In a large bowl combine chicken thighs, garlic, oregano, vinegar, olive oil, chopped dates, olives, capers and juice, bay leaves, salt and pepper. Cover and let marinate overnight in the refrigerator.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

Place chicken in a single layer in a 9×13 pan and spoon all the ingredients from the marinade over top, distributed equally. Sprinkle brown sugar over the chicken pieces and then pour the white wine over top and around the chicken.

Bake for 45 – 50 minutes, basting frequently with the juices from the pan. The chicken is done when a clear yellow, instead of pink, juice flows from the chicken when pricked. Transfer the chicken, olives, capers, and dates to a platter and moisten with some of the pan juices. Sprinkle parsley on top and serve the remaining sauce from the pan in a gravy boat.

This recipe can be served warm or at room temperature.

Serves 4-6 people

The pesto pasta also goes well with the chicken. Serve with a salad and loaf of crusty bread, which can soak up the juices from the rustic chicken.

We hope you enjoy these recipes and the company you keep. Put on some pleasant music, light the candles and create some lovely memories around the table with the people you love.

Bon appetit! 

Artist Spotlight: Erin Fitzpatrick

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Erin Fitzpatrick’s portraits are lush and full of color.  I LOVE everything about them – the colors, the patterns, the energy.  When looking in her subject’s soulful eyes it’s almost as if they are speaking directly to you.

Erin is a Baltimore native and graduate of the Maryland Institute College of Art.  She started painting portraits in 2008 and has a significant body of work.  I am delighted I was able to ask Erin a few questions about her inspiration and process to share with you here.  Enjoy!

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  1. When did you first get interested in painting?
    I have been interested in making images since I was young, 5 years old or so. I developed my skills in high school and art school, but I didn’t really start painting until about 12 years ago. Before that, I was mostly drawing. Now I paint almost every day.

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  2. How did you settle on portraiture and painting icons?  How do you decide on subject matter?I’ve always been interested in making portraits because there is an unlimited supply of subject matter.  People are so interesting and I love meeting new people whenever possible. I can paint a portrait that aims to show the soul of the subject, or I can use a model to create a character. The icons are more for fun. I only sell those paintings once in a while because they are painted from found images. One day I hope to be at the level where I’m meeting these people and photographing them myself.  I have been thinking about creating limited edition boxes that include an icon painting and other handmade items, but that concept is still in the works.

    As far as choosing my subjects, these days the majority of my paintings are by commission, so the subjects are clients. When I choose someone for a personal work, I usually have some kind of mood board for the painting and I seek out friends or people on social media to model. As far as the icons I’ve chosen to paint, sometimes I select them based on a striking image and sometimes because I’m a fan. When I painted Martha Stewart and Snoop Dogg, it was because I was possibly going to have the chance to meet Martha and I wanted to give her something cool (I did meet her and give her the painting!)

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  3. You use lush colors and often have gorgeous patterns in your paintings.  Have you always been attracted to colors and patterns?It’s funny. I took more classes in the fibers department than I did painting in art school. I took 4 semesters of weaving, not to mention several other classes in the department versus only two painting classes. I learned to dye and create textiles and studied textile design from many different cultures. At some point I asked myself, if you love this type of imagery, why aren’t you painting it? After that, pattern and color became an integral part of my work.

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  4. As someone who loves colors and patterns myself (August Table is all about patterns!), how do you decide which pattern to use in a painting and where do you get your inspiration?When I work with a client, I ask them about color scheme (what will look awesome in their homes) and then I make a digital collage with ideas for their patterns. We work together to select what will look best in their custom portrait. When I make my own work, I build a small set for my model to pose in. The “wallpapers” are either textiles that I’ve hung or paper that I’ve hand painted. In my last large work, I spent 20 hours hand painting a wallpaper for the photo shoot. It’s kind of tropical and was inspired by a trip to Cuba.

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  5. What is something fun about you that no one knows?I’ve always been a traveler. As soon as I was old enough to go somewhere on my own (17 yrs) I started exploring the country. I did two summers of Dead tour and had many adventures (and misadventures…like unknowingly spending the night with a cult in Nashville). I also got stranded in Mississippi once (22yrs) and lived in The Ole Miss Motel for a month. I still have this sense of adventure.

ErinFitz

Hi! I’m Erin. I decided to get rid of the stuffy third person bio and just tell you a little about myself. I’ve been painting (mostly) portraits since 2008 and now have collectors around the world. I create artworks of my own design as well as custom paintings by commission. This is my full-time job and I am currently booked for over a year (my clients are awesome).

I’ve painted a mural for Senator Kamala Harris and Martha Stewart owns one of my paintings! Oh yeah, so does Ringo Starr…like of The Beatles! How wild is that?

I love textiles, plants, patterns and interior design, and these themes often make it into my oil paintings. For my personal work, I actually build a set for the photo shoot to create a reference image, often handcrafting the items like rugs and wallpaper.

Summertime and travel are my favorite things, so you’ll catch me enjoying one of the two if I’m not painting my fingers off in my studio. The best place to check out my latest work is on my Instagram @fitzbomb