Famous 4th of July Getaways

With weekend quick trips and fabulous getaways no longer outside the realm of possibility, it’s time to make plans for the fourth of July. Whether you head out to participate in a small-town parade, relish fresh watermelon and funnel cakes at a fair, or enjoy your fireworks from a boat deck in the middle of the bluest-blue lake–you’ll find America has a lot to offer from sea to shining sea.

Bar Harbor, Maine

Bar Harbor, Maine is famous for celebrating the fourth with all-day activities that should satisfy even the most ardent patriot. The town is also located near Acadia National Park, so you’ll have access to stellar natural beauty.

Start off with a craft fair “featuring a wonderful selection of Maine crafts, including jewelry, quilts, photographs, pottery, and porcelain dolls.” Don’t miss the Independence Day parade, the fresh seafood, and the fireworks over Frenchman’s Bay.

If you’re planning on spending the night, make sure there are accommodations available. You might have to book out of town due to the event’s popularity.

Treehouse Cabins at The River of Life Farm, Dora, Missouri

If you’re looking to get away from the fireworks and the crowds, sleep nestled in the treetops of Dora, MO.

Amanda Norcross writes, “There are nine different treehouses from which to choose. Some are not “technically” treehouses since they are ground-level, but are good for large families as they offer space for up to 8 or 10 guests. The Chalet (the largest option) has a fully equipped kitchen.

When you’re not relaxing in the secluded privacy of your treehouse, rent a canoe, kayak or river raft, or go hiking in the beautiful surrounds. ATV tours and fly fishing excursions are also available.”

Bring your linens with you and have a lovely picnic while you’re here.

Charleston, South Carolina

There’s a reason Charleston is included on lists of America’s most beautiful cities. Here you’ll find style and substance, with plenty to do and see. To quote author Pat Conroy, “There is no city on Earth quite like Charleston. From the time I first came there in 1961, it’s held me in its enchanter’s power, the wordless articulation of its singularity, its withheld and magical beauty. Wandering through its streets can be dreamlike and otherworldly, its alleyways and shortcuts both fragrant and mysterious, yet as haunted as time turned in on itself.”

Don’t miss “Mount Pleasant’s Uncle Sam Jam (featuring live music) and Fourth of July Firework Bash, North Charleston’s Fourth of July Festival in Riverfront Park (known for its food trucks and the low country’s largest fireworks display) and Sea Stars and Stripes at the South Carolina Aquarium downtown. You can even watch the fireworks over the harbor at Patriot’s Point from the deck of the historic warship USS Yorktown.”

If you’re looking for a touch of romance on your trip, take a look at the Wentworth Mansion or the French Quarter Inn.

Boston, Massachusetts

Why not celebrate in Boston, where the famous tea party happened? According to Travel Pulse, Boston is “home to the Freedom Trail and a slew of other attractions where visitors can celebrate American independence. The festivities kick off with the annual Boston Harborfest and culminate with the reading of the Declaration of Independence and the Boston POPS fireworks display over the Charles River on July 4.”

South Padre, Texas

In Texas, they celebrate the fourth in a big way–just like everything else Texan. 

According to Trip Savvy, “South Padre Island has been officially designated as the ‘Fireworks Capital of Texas ‘because of its weekly summer pyrotechnics displays. The shows go on at 9 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays at Clayton’s Beach Bar and Grill. On Independence Day, South Padre Island lives up to its nickname when Clayton’s puts on a huge extravaganza brightening the sky over Laguna Madre Bay. The colorful fireworks and live music taking place from 9 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. on July 4, 2020, can be viewed from condos and restaurants on both South Padre Island and across the bay in Port Isabel.”

You can also try your hand at parasailing, surfing, and fishing the local waters.

San Diego, California

Home of the Big Bay Boom, San Diego is a celebrated spot for Independence Day festivities.

According to San Diego.org, “The Big Bay Boom July 4th Fireworks Show is back, promising another spectacular display over San Diego Bay. Fireworks will be discharged simultaneously from barges placed strategically around the Bay off Shelter Island, Harbor Island, Embarcadero North, Seaport Village, Embarcadero South Marina Park, and Coronado Ferry Landing. The impeccably choreographed display will last approximately 17 minutes.”

While you’re there, make sure to visit Coronado Island. Stay in the famous red-roofed hotel where “Some Like It Hot” was filmed. Stroll through the beautiful Balboa Park with its atrium and museums, lunch in the Gaslamp Quarter, take a carriage ride, shop in La Jolla, and be sure to spend plenty of time at the beach.

Happy Independence Day!

How to Create the Perfect Picnic

Whether you’re camping out in front of the fireplace at home or outside appreciating the scenery, there’s nothing quite like a picnic for changing up your routine and enjoying some quality time with the people you love.

If you’re in front of the fireplace or on your back porch, you don’t have to be too worried about forgetting something because you can just run back inside if you need anything. 

But if you’re trekking out to that sublime spot in the mountains or by that luscious blue lake your family has always loved, you’ll want to make sure you’re organized.

First, make a list of everything you need. Think of the basics we take for granted at home, such as salt, silverware, a corkscrew and napkins. Check off your list as each item is packed.

Don’t forget to pack heavier items on the bottom!

The Food

Plan on foods that can be served cold, and that with some ice packs, will keep their shape and flavor. For instance, dessert bars will hold up better than anything delicate, such as a creamy Napoleon or chocolate mousse cake.

A cheese board is always a welcome addition to a picnic, especially when paired with some juicy easy-to-eat fruit such as grapes, strawberries and cherries.

Cold fried or grilled chicken is a picnic staple. Sandwiches on sturdy bread and wraps are also ideal.

If you’ve never made bierocks, they’re favorite farmer fare brought over from Europe to the Midwest. Traditionally, it’s a bun stuffed with beef, cabbage, onions and cheese. However, we’ve been interested in a lighter, meatless version that’s been increasingly popular. Most recipes, like this one, substitute mushrooms for the meat. However, you could use any of your favorite sauteed vegetables. A baked veggie bierock makes a delicious and tidy picnic food.

If you’re going to pack salad, pack the dressing separately unless you’re preparing a sturdier pasta veggie pasta or something like coleslaw. 

Set-Up

Part of the loveliness of a picnic is sitting in the grass under a tree with the blue sky overhead. Don’t forget the elements that add that touch of beauty that makes a picnic truly memorable. Bring folding chairs for those who need them and spread out a beautiful tablecloth with some napkins.

And if someone plays the guitar, then by all means bring it. A portable player works, too.

Have a lovely time.

Classic Mint Juleps for Lazy Summer Days

“They say that you may always know the grave of a Virginian as, from the quantity of julep he has drunk, mint invariably springs up where he has been buried.”
Frederick Marryat, 1839

Memorial Day weekend is heralded as the unofficial start to summer, a time to kick up your heels and relax with friends and family. What I did not know is that on May 30th every year it’s also National Mint Julep Day. The mint julep originated in the south with first mentions of the drink in the late eighteenth century in Virginia taverns. In 1938, Churchill Downs started promoting the drink for the Kentucky Derby and each year around 120,000 juleps are served over the two day event.

The recipe can vary but it is very simple to make with just a few ingredients. Spearmint is the mint of choice typically and so refreshing.

Photo by Honestly Yum

Mint Julep by Honestly Yum

This iconic cocktail is so simple to make, yet there are a few tricks that will make your juleps a guaranteed winner.Servings: 1 cocktail

INGREDIENTS

INSTRUCTIONS

  1. Start by removing the mint leaves from their stems and place in the bottom of the julep cup. Add simple syrup and muddle very lightly. If you don’t have a muddler you can use the back of a spoon. The goal is not to break apart the mint, but rather to release the oils from the mint, infusing the simple syrup with mint flavor.
  2. Next, add the bourbon and fill half of the julep cup with crushed ice. Stir using a bar spoon or swizzle stick so that the mint, syrup, bourbon and ice are thoroughly mixed. I crushed my ice in a food processor, but you can also use a blender or a lewis bag and mallet.
  3. Now that all of the ingredients have been added and you’ve given a quick stir, add even more ice. You’ll want to fill with crushed ice up and over the rim of the julep cup. At this point your drink will be ice-cold, and your cup frosty with condensation.
  4. Lastly, garnish with a large sprig of mint. Place your straw next to the garnish so you can smell the fresh mint while you sip.
Photo by Honestly Yum

How to: Fold Cloth Napkins With Silverware

When you’re entertaining, it’s the small and simple touches that can make all the difference. Candles flickering in your mother’s heirloom candleholders, fresh flowers from the garden, the fruit from the farmers market, and that signature dish that always gets raves from your guests. 

We appreciate being a part of your gatherings with friends and family. As you probably know, we work with a small team in India to design and manufacture our lovely block-printed textile patterns and linens. We’re committed to safely producing eco-friendly tablecloths, napkins, dish towels and scarves using mill-made cotton and natural dyes.

We make our cloth dinner napkins in hopes that they will be a special addition to your memorable moments when you connect with friends, family and loved ones over a meal.

With that in mind, we thought it might be fun to go over a few ways to fold your napkins to feature silverware. 

Napkin Origami Horn

This lovely creation comes from Love to Know. To me, it looks like a dress with three layering hems, turned upside-down:

  • “Start with the finished side of your napkin face down. Fold the napkin in half vertically, then fold in half once more to make a square. Press the folds lightly with your iron if needed.
  • Place the napkin in front of you in a diamond position with the open ends at the top. Fold each layer of the napkin back, tucking it in so the seam is not visible. Space the layers roughly one inch apart, taking care to make the folds as neat as possible.
  • Flip the napkin over and fold the left point across the right point. Flip the napkin back to the original position, then add any silverware that is desired. Alternatively, this design could be used to hold flowers or other decorative accents for your table.”

Simple Rectangular Wrap

This easy, no-fuss fold comes from WikiHow:

  • Place the napkin flat on the table. Fold up the bottom two to three inches evenly across the bottom. 
  • Place the silverware in the pocket, nesting together if needed to keep the bundle small. Place the flatware so the bottom of the handles touch the inner fold. Also, place the bundles about two inches from the right.
  • Then fold the top half over the silverware so ends meet. Then simply roll, starting from the right, and secure the bundle with a ribbon, a piece of twine, or whatever goes with your decor. 

Basic Silverware Pouch

This classic favorite comes from napkinfoldingguide.com:

  • Lay the napkin face-down in front of you.
  • Fold the napkin in half and orient the open end toward you.
  • Fold the napkin into quarters.
  • Orient the napkin so the open corner is facing away and to the left.
  • Fold the top-most layer of napkin in half diagonally and press it down.
  • Turn the napkin over so that the open corner is now facing away and to the right.
  • Fold the right-side back about 1/3 of the way and press it down.
  • Fold the left-side back also about 1/3 of the way and press.
  • Flip it over, straighten it up and insert those shiny eating instruments.” 

Enjoy, friends. Wishing you the best of times.

“The essence of great entertaining: a seemingly effortless combination of authentic food and imagination presented with a personal touch and enjoyed in good company.”

― Annie Falk

The Art of Spring Tablescaping

Photo by: Claudia Reese

The beautiful spring came, and when nature resumes her loveliness, the human soul is apt to revive also. ~ Harriet Ann Jacobs

Spring sometimes comes with a shock of hope.

When winter lasts and lingers, sometimes we forget there is even such a thing as spring. We know, of course, the season exists–intellectually speaking. But sometimes our hearts forget.

When spring comes, it brings in all kinds and colors of joy. It’s reflected in the art we create, the food we make, and the way we add its life and hues to our homes–which is an art form all on its own.

Maybe we remember how much our grandmother loved lilacs, and we may stop and appreciate their beauty in her honor and bring in cuttings for the table.

Because the spring of the now ties into the seasons of the past, and it makes us happy to incorporate the memories of the bygone years. So if it isn’t spring for you until your garden is covered in poppies, then bring on the poppies!

And take your own sacred version of the season and bring it to your table for a gorgeous, personal space. 

Here are some of our favorite tips.

Florals

Flowers aren’t everything when it comes to spring tablescaping, but it’s they’re certainly a great place to start.

When you pick the color scheme of your floral design, then you know what you need to do to tie in the rest of the table. Many people choose tableware that’s neutral and then use napkins to mirror the natural colors of the centerpiece.

Consider choosing long, lower containers for the flower so your guests can still see each other. Or, you could use multiple smaller vases filled with loose bouquets and spaced in between the sightline.

Also, make sure the table isn’t so crowded that your friends can’t eat comfortably. If the plates are crowded, you may have overdone it and need to pull back on fashion in favor of function.

A Decorative Gift

A lovely touch for your guests is to place a small offering on their plate. 

You can use a rustic or silvery charger topped with a large plate and then a smaller one on top, which is often the layered plating chosen for spring, and then add a small decorative present for your guests on the smallest plate. 

For instance, you could place a pretty woven nest on each place setting filled with a trio of foil-wrapped or other egg-shaped treats. Or, place a large chocolate egg in an egg cup. You can also use the nest or cup as a placeholder, adding a pretty, personalized paper nameplate.

A container with a small bouquet at each place is a beautiful touch. You could also choose a living plant, turning your table into a ”host of golden daffodils” or another profusion of blooms that your guests can take home with them.

Go Local and In Season

What does spring look like where you live? The happiest blossoms in your region can often be the best choice for your tablescape. But don’t be limited by flowers; a centerpiece of greens can be transported on its own. Also, local fruit can be incorporated into your design. 

Shop your local farmers market with an eye to tablescaping. You might find some excellent ideas you’d never considered.

If using fruit, make sure they’re clean in case your guests want to eat those beautiful grapes, peaches–or whatever you’ve chosen–for their dessert.

Glassware

Laura Remmert, the owner of Laura Remmert Events, states that “adding a pop of color with your glassware is both a playful and elegant addition to any spring tablescape. A fun twist on classic black and white—the green accent glass brings a colorful touch to … tabletop design perfectly tying in the natural green in the flowers.” 

Photo by: Claudia ReeCse

This seems to work particularly well if you’re using white or pale blossoms for your spring tablescape. 

Extend Your Tablescape

Don’t leave your design all clumped together in the middle of the table. Extend your creation with a natural table runner such as greens or a collection of thin branches. You can also use a tablecloth folded lengthwise into thirds. In this case, we prefer organic cotton with natural dyes.

Also, a collection of small white, pastel, or silver candlesticks placed from the center of the table outwards will also extend your design. 

Happy hosting, friends! We hope you’re enjoying this spring season as much as we are.

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!

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!

Cold Weather 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!

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!