A Classic Fiddlehead Ferns Recipe

Growing up, fiddlehead ferns were a mysterious food that other people ate. People in Maine, for instance.

Then there were poets:

Fiddlehead Ferns

By Matthew Dickman

(excerpt)

Olive seashells

in the air

you can eat.

The very inner of the inner ear

in the breeze.

Last night my son dreamt

about falling

out of trees.

I had almost forgotten

that we were

simians.

The fiddlehead turns

on itself but only ever in love.

Green cinnamon roll,

a snake too small to hunt

anyone.

Curled in like my son’s

fingers, his fists.

More beautiful than

a spider fern,

spun-in island,

moldy tongue of a hippopotamus,

the eye of the forest.

 And then, there were people in books. (Usually books about people in Maine).

In one novel, a lost girl survived her hunger by munching the curled greenery as she hiked through an endless forest. In others, it was long-limbed, somewhat artsy women who knew the secrets of the river bottom and would bring clusters of the curled tops home to their charming cottages in the woods.

But like mushrooms, it’s not just any frond curled like a violin’s scroll from just any fern. Some are not edible. Some are toxic. However, unlike mushrooms, it seems when people make foraging mistakes with ferns, they tend to get sick rather than facing possible death like with mushrooms mistakes.

Still, not a blunder anyone wants to make.

Unless someone in the know can teach you what ferns you can eat look like–apparently a u-shaped groove in the ostrich fern, and which ones to avoid–perhaps stick to the experts at your local market. 

Here’s what Food and Wine Magazine  has to say:

Where: Fiddleheads can be found in much of the United States as well as Europe, Asia and Canada: In fact, Tide Head, New Brunswick, calls itself the Fiddlehead Capital of the World.

When: May.

What to look for: Small coils that are tightly wound up. Fiddleheads should be a vibrant bright green, unless they are still covered in their brown papery skin. The skin should come off easily when rubbed. Purchase or pick only ostrich fern fiddleheads, as they are the safest for consumption.

Flavor profile: Fiddleheads are sweet like asparagus, grassy and snappy like a great green bean, with a touch of broccoli stem.

Health benefits: Rich in potassium, iron, antioxidants and omega-3 fatty acids, fiddleheads are fantastically healthy.

How to eat them: Because ostrich ferns contain a trace amount of a toxin, you should never eat them raw. (Not that you would want to—they are quite bitter when raw.) Cook them for at least 5 minutes. First, prep the fiddleheads by rinsing them and rubbing off any papery brown skin. Then they can be steamed, braised, sautéed, roasted or pickled (after blanching).

Basically, you want to treat fiddleheads like you do asparagus. But for our classic recipe, let’s add some eggs and goat cheese. In the words of writer Catherine Johnson:

Yes, ferns just love to celebrate

All things glorious, green and new.

Until they wind up on your plate

 In a frittata made for two.

Fiddlehead Frittata with Bacon and Chevre- adapted from Salt in My Coffee

Ingredients

  • 1 lb organic red potatoes, chopped
  • 12 ounces fiddleheads, cleaned
  • 4 shallots (or one medium onion)
  • 12 large eggs (or 10 duck eggs)
  • 4 slices thick-cut turkey bacon, cooked and crumbled
  • 8 ounces chopped or shredded cheddar cheese
  • 4 ounces crumbled chevre
  • olive oil, butter, or bacon fat for frying

Instructions

  1. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.
  2. In a deep cast iron pan, saute fiddleheads, chopped potatoes, and diced shallots, in a generous amount of butter, olive oil, or bacon fat. Cook over medium-low heat until fiddleheads are fiddleheads and potatoes are tender, and shallots are getting translucent – about 15-20 minutes.
  3. Whisk together eggs and cheese in a large bowl, then add to the pan with the fiddlehead mixture. If you’d like to skip dirtying a bowl, just add the cheese and eggs directly to the pan, mixing vigorously as you crack in each egg.
  4. Stir everything well so that it’s thoroughly mixed, then put the whole thing in the oven. Bake until the center is set, and the frittata is golden brown – about 35 minutes.
  5. Cool slightly, and serve.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to paint a landscape in my charming cottage and then go foraging for fiddleheads.

Happy eating!

5 Spring Cleaning Tips

Trisha Krauss

After their brief visit to my magnolia tree last month, the birds are here to stay. I could sit and listen to their song for hours. But it’s time to get to work and tackle spring cleaning, so I’ll open my windows and let in the fresh, green tasting air and use the delightful sound of birdsong as my soundtrack to the day. 

Time to get started. Here are my spring cleaning tips as we all jump in and ready our homes for the season.

Declutter

First, go through junk drawers, desktops, and kitchens. Get rid of what you don’t need. If you know deep in your heart that you have no use for some gadget or decoration that just isn’t you, but you can’t quite bring yourself to donate/toss the object, get a big cardboard box and label it with a date for six months from now. Stick the box in your garage. Put an alert on your calendar, and when the six months are up go through the box. If you didn’t catch yourself thinking you needed those household items, or you weren’t even tempted to pull them out, then it’s time to donate.

Of course, it’s better if you can take the initial plunge, but some people live in fear of getting rid of the wrong things.

But if  you had a parent that went on decluttering rampages and you still can’t get over those notebooks she threw out filled with your private thoughts or your doll that was given away before you were ready. Then use the six-month box with my blessing.

Dusting

Start at the top of the room and go down. This way, you’re not covering your just cleaned,  perfectly ordered room in dust from your ceiling fan.

Make sure to get any strings of cobwebs hiding out in the corners of your rooms and light fixtures. 

Use a pillowcase to envelop each blade of a ceiling fan and pull the dust off. Then wipe down the fan with a slightly damp microfiber cloth. Empty the dust into the trash and wash the pillowcase.

This is also the perfect time to change the batteries in your smoke detectors.

Walls and Windows

Once again, start at the top. For your walls, wrap a broom with a soft cloth to dust the hard to reach places.

According to Maids.com, “Get two buckets, some soft sponges, and dry microfiber cloths. Fill one bucket with warm water for rinsing and the other with your wall cleaner. Start at the top of the wall and work your way down using light, circular motions. Work in sections to prevent spotting and discoloration. Wash the wall with your cleaning solution and then wipe off the residue with a sponge dipped in your rinse bucket. Dry the wall with your microfiber cloth and move on to the next section.”

Don’t forget the baseboards! A soft toothbrush can work wonders if you have trouble getting in the crevices.

For your windows, use your favorite glass cleaner or use a combination of equal parts of white vinegar and water.

But first, pop out the screens and wash with soapy water and rinse off with a hose.

For the windows, clean both sides and dry with a clean microfiber towel.

Don’t forget the window tracks. Vacuum them out and scrub with a toothbrush and your cleaner. Wipe down the frames with a microfiber cloth.

Clean your window treatments according to the manufacturer’s directions.

Cupboards and Doors

Go over your doors and cupboards with a damp microfiber cloth. If needed, use a Mr. Clean Magic Eraser.

Don’t forget door knobs and pulls. Soapy water works great most of the time, but if you have brass, copper, or pewter handles, then you need to know the recommended methods for your metals. Check out Direct Door Hardware’s website for help. Apparently, in the old days people would polish pewter with green cabbage leaves! You can’t find a more natural, non-toxic cleaning practice than that.

Bathrooms and Linen Closets

Take everything out of your drawers, cupboards, and linen closet. Wipe down the surfaces and return what you want to keep. Get rid of expired products and wash linens if they smell musty. 

Add a half cup white vinegar to the final cycle for soft fresh towels and linens.

Have a lovely spring. Make sure to take some time to appreciate its beauty. In the words of Anne Lamott:

I am going to try to pay attention to the spring. I am going to look around at all the flowers, and look up at the hectic trees. I am going to close my eyes and listen.

Throwing the Perfect Easter Brunch

Spring is a lovely time to entertain. You can pull your inspiration from the greening world around you, from the tulips and daffodils popping up everywhere. Everyone is happier because the long winter, no matter how wonderful, tends to weigh on us as the cold weather settles in and then takes its time winding up. People are happier because spring is on the way. 

Then one day we wake up and we can feel the difference in the air. Time to go outside, spend some time in the garden, put away the puffy coats, and throw a cheerful, springtime brunch.

Here are a few tips to making your brunch an elegant affair.

Tablescaping

The wonderful part about entertaining at Easter is the decorative beauty of the season. Bring in pots of tulips, daffodils, and lilies. Scatter moss and branches and pull out your most cheerful linens. We particularly love our tanager yellow, rosefinch, or blues and greens  for spring.

Vintage dishware in pastels or fresh grassy greens makes a wonderful base for your table.

We particularly love the use of eggs in these tablescaping designs from onekindesign.com. The natural, rustic look with eggs in nests is elegant with the newness and freshness of spring. 

You can also appeal to the child’s heart in all of us with small Easter treats at each plate like a golden egg in a loosely gathered nest-like presentation. Who didn’t want to find the golden egg at Easter egg hunts?

If it’s warm enough to have an outside brunch, then by all means do so. Just have a back-up plan in case the weather cools. A pile of lovely shawls and throws is a nice touch, or you can be prepared to move the party inside.

The Menu

Not only are the decorations sensational, but a spring-inspired menu can also be full of the fresh and inviting joys of the season.

Brunches like this tend to have several dishes that people can try. If you choose to go this route, choose carefully. You’ll want to have most of them be simple or make-ahead favorites. 

Check out your local farmers markets and base your menu on the fresh produce you find there. A simple lemony avgolemono soup served with chopped dill or fresh mint can be a luscious addition, or you can go full spring with a creamy soup made from some pureed bright green asparagus.

I always like to have the best fruit I can find on the table, side by side with an array of specialty cheeses. 

A sourdough strata, like this one from Food Network, is made with plenty of vegetables, always appreciated, and can be made ahead of time. Love the addition of goat cheese!

I have to include this asparagus soup recipe from Once Upon a Chef, which is made with parmesan cheese and can even be frozen.

Asparagus Soup with Lemon and Parmesan

By Jennifer Segal

This asparagus soup tastes rich, yet it’s made without heavy cream — just veggies, broth, and a hint of Parmesan puréed to silky perfection.

Servings: 4-6

INGREDIENTS
2 bunches asparagus (about 2-1/4 pounds), bottom ends trimmed
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 medium yellow onions, chopped
3 cloves garlic, peeled and smashed
6 cups low-sodium chicken broth
Salt
Freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice, from one lemon
1/2 cup shredded Parmigiano-Reggiano

Handful fresh herbs, such as thyme, dill, or basil (optional, for garnish)

INSTRUCTIONS

Melt the butter in a large pot over medium heat. Add the onions and garlic and cook, stirring frequently, until soft and translucent, about 8 minutes. Do not brown; reduce the heat if necessary.

In the meantime, cut the tips off of one bunch of the asparagus and set aside (you’ll use those for a garnish). Cut the remaining spears and the other bunch of asparagus into 1/2-inch pieces.

Add the chopped asparagus to the pot (minus the reserved tips), along with the chicken broth, 1 teaspoon salt, and 1/4 teaspoon pepper. Bring to a boil, then cover and turn the heat down to low. Simmer for about 30 minutes, or until the vegetables are very tender.

Meanwhile, bring a small pot of salted water to a boil. Cook the reserved asparagus tips for a few minutes, or until tender-crisp. Drain the tips and then place them in a bowl of ice water to “shock” them — this stops the cooking process and preserves their bright green color. Once the tips are cool, drain and set them aside.

Purée the soup with an immersion blender until completely smooth. (Alternatively, use a standard blender to purée the soup in batches, then return the soup to the pot.) Bring the soup back to a simmer and stir in the lemon juice and Parmigiano-Reggiano. Taste and adjust seasoning, if necessary. To thicken the soup, allow it to simmer uncovered until the desired consistency is reached.

Ladle the soup into bowls, then top each bowl with asparagus tips, Parmigiano-Reggiano, herbs (if using), and freshly ground black pepper.

Freezer-Friendly Instructions: You can freeze the soup for up to 3 months. Defrost the soup in the refrigerator for 12 hours and then reheat it on the stovetop over medium heat until hot. (The soup will freeze best if you add the cheese when reheating.)

Happy entertaining!

How to: Keeping Linens Fresh

After a long day, there’s nothing quite so satisfying as slipping into your cozy bed with its fresh, clean sheets and a blanket that’s the perfect weight and density. 

Whether you choose a pillowy, cloudy comforter or a cozy cotton quilt, you should feel your bed is designed perfectly for you. A sacred space where you can lay down the burdens of the day and just rest. 

If your bed isn’t what it should be, perhaps it’s time to invest in some crisp, organic cotton sheets and find a covering that makes your heart happy.

You’ll want to make sure your guests’ experience is comfortable and luxurious. 

This quotation from Nikos Kazantzakis is about perfect. “I knew that no matter what door you knock on in a Cretan village, it will be opened for you. A meal will be served in your honor, and you will sleep between the best sheets in the house. In Crete, the stranger is still the unknown god. Before him, all doors and all hearts are opened.”

Whatever linens create the ultimate sleeping spaces for you, your guest, and your family, they all need proper care to be at their lovely, fresh best.

Quilt on etsy

Baking Soda

Soak your linens with a sprinkling of baking soda before you start the wash cycle. You can also put a small box of slightly opened baking soda in the back of your linen closet to suck up offending odors. 

When you remove your sheets from the dryer or the clothesline, make sure they’re completely dry before you put them away. Any dampness at all can turn your linen closet into a mildewing mess.

Lavender Sachets by Belle River Boutique

Make Your Own Sachets

If you have lavender or rosemary on hand, you can make sachets to tuck in between sheets and blankets. 

These no-sewing-required ones from treehugger.com are a breeze to make:

“Cut thin white cotton fabric into a 4-inch square. Place dried lavender in the center of the square. Pick up the edges of the square and twist them. Tie a white ribbon tightly around the top to make a lavender sachet. Place the lavender sachet in with the blankets and comforters when storing them.”

You could also twist both ends and tie for a slimmer version of the sachet. Just make sure the twist ensures there is no gapping. 

Many people love lavender, but if it’s a little too flowery for you, use rosemary instead. Strip the greenery off its  branches and let dry before use. A nice combination would be to make sachets with cedar chips for blankets and rosemary for sheets.

Another alternative is to wrap a few bars of your favorite soap in fabric and tuck that in the closet with your linens. If you’ve discovered a divinely scented soap, this might be the best option for you.

Make sure to rotate your linens so each set gets equal use and is aired out properly, rather than being stuck in the back of the closet. 

Freshen Between Washes

Before you make your bed in the morning, spray the air over your sleeping area with a natural linen spray. Stick to scents that are light and fresh, and that both you and your partner enjoy. 

Some people prefer to use perfume for their personal space. If so, make sure to spray the air above your bed and let the micro drops disperse evenly over your linens. Don’t heavily spray, and avoid strong scents. One spray should do it for a refreshing touch-up. Warm scents with notes of ginger, citrus, and soft florals work particularly well.

Rest easy and sleep well, friends.

“The most luxurious item is a beautiful bed and beautiful, simple sheets.”  –Andre Leon Talley

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!