Monday, December 29, 2014

Hostessing Again!

Hosting our dear friends for supper before a little gift exchange......this time our cozy winter dinner consisted of--

*pork barbecue for the bbq-eaters
*Parker House rolls
*kale-brussels sprouts salad
*roasted sweet potatoes & regular potatoes
*lemon icebox pie

I kept it very easy because today was fruitcake-baking day in my house.  Every year I make fruitcakes for my father from his mother's recipe (which was also his grandmother's recipe).  He loves them and I will never skip the tradition--even if I end up baking them late, like I am this year.  It's a classic, traditional fruitcake and the first year I made it I was only a few weeks from giving birth to our second child and I was unprepared for how epic it would be.  Now I am wise and start one day ahead to save myself the backache.

We had such a nice evening, with the children screaming wildly like banshees downstairs and the adults upstairs lingering over the meal.  We exchanged gifts and dear Allison gave me the softest pajamas, lavender dryer bags, lavender salt scrub and a glorious jar of lavender-rosemary dish detergent, which I cannot *wait* to use! We love to give each other gifts that are useful and luxurious--it's so nice to make everyday tasks more pleasant.

That's all the hostessing I will do until my daughter's birthday in early January.  We return from our New Year's trip on January 5th, and it will only be a few days until I pull together a little sparkly party for her.

Sunday, December 28, 2014

Fresh Space and a Timer Tip

Today was a day for clearing-out! It's so satisfying to put all the Christmas items back into their labeled bins and stick them back on their shelves in the garage to await next year's holiday season.  We took the tree down and I removed all Christmas decorations from the interior of the house except for my children's small (faux) trees.  They will come down sometime after our daughter's birthday on January 9. 

I also went through a huge lot of vintage Christmas ornaments my father-in-law dropped off at our house last Monday.  I chose a small number of the ornaments to keep--the most interesting, singular-looking ones (glass bells, glass stars!) which gave me a surge of joy when I saw them, then created a bag to give to my sister, and the rest are going to the thrift store.

And finally I orchestrated an ambitious decluttering and re-organizing of the main floor of the house. All three bedrooms were ruthlessly tidied--the children's rooms in particular needed a lot of help--and the other rooms were totally decluttered.  Tomorrow our lower floor gets the same treatment. 

My tip for doing this with children around is to set a timer.  Spend a set amount of time cleaning together, and then spend an equal amount of time playing (sometimes I will play *with* my children or read to them, but more often I just let them play because they are now old enough to do so--with toddlers, it's best if you devote the entire time to interacting with them!).  It is amazing how much I can accomplish this way!

I love creating fresh space to usher in the New Year.  It's energizing and so refreshing. 

Saturday, December 27, 2014

A Festive Christmas Dinner

Christmas dinner at my husband's aunt's house is an annual tradition and I always look forward to the wonderful spread of food she creates--the same dishes, basically, every year, and always so salty and unusual for us. This year I decided to try to do my best to record what we have.

*red punch (my favorite!)
*green punch
*this year, they added mocha punch--which was truly the only dessert I wanted or needed

*sausage balls
*crab meltaways (my favorite)
*chicken puffs
*little sandwiches: chicken salad, ham salad, egg salad....
*tiny country ham biscuits
*ham delights (a small roll, with poppyseed-mustard dressing, and ham and cheese, all melted together...)
*marinated mushrooms (my other favorite!)
*chips and dip
*shrimp cocktail
*new on the menu this year: a cranberry-jello salad
*oyster crackers
*cheese straws
*hot dog bites in a tangy sauce--I'm not sure what this is, b/c I never eat it
*this year my sister-in-law provided brie & apricot jam in phyllo cups

*prune cake
*coconut cake
*cookies: Russian tea cakes, 7-layer cookies, candy cane cookies, sugar cookies, chocolate cookies
*chocolate peanut-butter balls
*chocolate-covered pretzels
*spiced pecans
*peanut butter fudge  and chocolate-nut fudge
*and of course, little bowls of red and green peanut and regular M&Ms on various tables, which little fingers love to grab when no one is looking......

Usually we make crabcakes to take but this year my husband's aunt suggested that they had plenty of food and that we didn't need to bring anything. So I put a few rice krispy goodies on a tray and that was our contribution!!  Next year I think a crudite platter would be nice, because a nice foil to all that rich, salty food is the satisfying crunch of raw vegetables, so that's what I will plan to take.

What a delicious feast--I am so grateful for the hospitality they show--the food is not only delicious, but their house is decorated so beautifully for Christmas with trees, a little lit village, Christmas prints hung on the walls, special Christmas soap dispenser in the bathroom, et cetera.   After we eat we have our gift exchange; at Thanksgiving, his extended family draws names out of a hat and we play "Secret Santa!"  Last night I got two beautiful Root candles from my generous Secret Santa--my mother-in-law!

Friday, December 26, 2014

The Juxtaposition of Two Environments

"It makes an enormous difference if someone creates an environment for you to live in.  One person sleeps half the day, gets up looking like a half-dead duck, drags around with eyelids scarcely open, slurping coffee and leaving a mess all over the newly polished sink, leaves the bed unmade and a week of clothing in a heap on the bed, heaves a sigh and moans about what a drag life is, then prepares to sit and philosophize while you work.  What is the effect of this on you? Surely, you begin to feel tired, discouraged, irritated, frustrated, and hopeless.  Your own energy begins to ebb away.  You decide to put off the rush of getting your article written.  After all, you might as well go out for a walk.  And so one wasted, ugly life infects another.

"A second person gets up when the alarm goes off, or soon after, puts water on for the tea or coffee and helps to get breakfast, takes a bath and dresses so cheerily that you feel the sun must be shining and have to look again to realize the sky is still grey, makes his bed and clears things up so that you feel the urge to get to work soon, tidies the living room so that it looks better than it had been left the night before, and talks with an awareness and enthusiasm that gives you inspiration for your article and you feel there will be no doubt about getting it finished in time.  Both have pitched into work before the hoped-for starting time, feeling a surge of accomplishment and energy that seems to multiply the time instead of wasting it."

                   --Edith Schaeffer, The Hidden Art of Homemaking

Nothing motivates me to avoid looking like a half-dead duck in the morning more than this passage! And for anyone who has lived with or visited with a person described in the former know what a joy it is to live with someone like the one described in the latter paragraph.  I'm glad to note that my husband is firmly in the second category and I appreciate that very much.  My natural inclination is to drag around with my eyelids scarcely open, because I am not a morning person, but I genuinely try to get up and at it in a cheerful, efficient way each day-thanks in no small part to the encouragement of Edith here.

Thursday, December 25, 2014

Light and Glory

"For my eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the sight of all nations: a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and the glory of your people Israel."  --Luke 2:28-32

A few photos of some gifts waiting to be opened this morning....I love wrapping gifts and trying to make them look nice with all the little scraps and bits I have.....

Merry Christmas!

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

A Peaceful and Quiet Christmas Eve

In the past Christmas Eve for me has often been consumed by lots of cooking and food prep, gift-wrapping, and houseguests. This year there was none of that.  Instead it was just the four of us, and we mostly seemed to lounge around just enjoying each other's company.  I helped a neighbor run an errand and popped into the thrift store (a new skirt! a bowl that matches some antique china we have!), and when I got home my husband was vacuuming!  That was a sweet surprise!  There was playing outside, hand-sewing an invisible zipper into a skirt and then finishing the waistband by machine, a bit of laundry, book-reading, Thai food for dinner (so warm, spicy and comforting), a relaxing hot bath, table-setting for the morning and an excited child who couldn't sleep...but he eventually succumbed just before midnight! 

We've been very busy for the past two weeks so a restful and happy Christmas Eve felt like a gift.  Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good night!

Monday, December 22, 2014

Holiday Hostessing

In one week, I have hosted four different times!

Last Saturday we celebrated my sister's birthday with:
*roasted vegetable platter (cauliflower, broccoli)
*English fish pie
*gluten-free, dairy-free chocolate pie

--and used the cream-and-brown china, with the aqua napkins (flowers courtesy of my father).

On Sunday we hosted my in-laws for my mother-in-law's birthday.  We made:
*pork barbecue
*purple cabbage-carrot coleslaw
*steamed broccoli
*roasted potatoes and carrots
*key lime pie cheesecake

--and used the white fine china with the Christmas linens.....

On Monday and Wednesday I did scads of Christmas baking.  On Thursday we hosted our neighbors for:
*salad "bar" (lots of toppings in individual jadeite bowls)
*spaghetti with meatballs and freshly-grated parmesean
*fresh foccacia kissed with pink Himalayan salt
*platter of Christmas goodies

--and used the jadeite, with no tablecloth (easy cleanup in case of spaghetti spills! five children between us, and all of them small....) and paint-dipped pinecones.

And on Saturday we threw a little Christmas luncheon for my grandparents featuring:
*chicken salad with pecans
*fresh Parker House rolls
*potato-onion soup
*buttermilk pie (my grandfather's favorite!) & decaf coffee

--and used the cream and delicate aqua-flowered china passed along to me by my husband's grandmother, set on top of a cream tablecloth with aqua beautiful!  My centerpiece was a fruit bouquet my neighbor made and brought on Thursday evening.

Now I'm done!

Dairy-Free, Gluten-Free Chocolate Pie

I've made this pie twice now and it is a keeper! The second time I made it, for my sister's birthday, we topped some pieces with dollops of freshly-whipped cream, for those of us who are not dairy-free...and a few graham cracker crumbs from the crust.  There is, in fact, a pie underneath all that whipped cream. I promise!

I made a graham crust with gluten-free graham cracker crumbs and dairy-free "butter". Then I followed this recipe for the chocolate filling.  It uses pantry staples and no soy, and the chocolate flavor is dark and not cloyingly sweet, which I like!

For a completely dairy-free version, you could top with whipped coconut milk.....

Saturday, December 20, 2014

Sewing a Chapel Veil

One of my sister's Christmas requests was a chapel veil in brown.  She sometimes wears a veil to her church and had one in a pale peach, but wanted something that would blend in with her hair. 

I knew I could make it myself, so I hunted around and found these instructions.  I bought everything I needed at Joann Fabrics.  I bought three yards of the trim and used every single inch!  I made it a couple of weeks ago so I could give it to her for her birthday, which is in mid-December.

I sewed it while it was on the cutting mat, on the bed, so that the trim wouldn't slip and the lace wouldn't bunch.

The veil tutorial also included a link to a pouch tutorial. I realized that a pouch for the veil would be a great idea!  I sewed this pouch quickly--so quickly I overlooked the fact that I should have sewed the top over the bottom slightly, but that's okay. 

The exterior is heavyweight decorative toile.  The lining is made of old silk Pottery Barn curtains that began to shred as they hung on the curtain rod--I made Halloween costumes out of them last year, too! 

  I love learning how to make new things. 

Friday, December 19, 2014

In the Guest Room at Christmas

The chest of drawers and cedar chest were made by my husband's grandfather. The bed was made by a family-owned furniture company out of walnut many years ago; I inherited it from my mother. The little vintage choir people used to belong to beloved family friends, and my grandmother cross-stitched the picture of Drayton Hall in Charleston, South Carolina back in the 1990s because she knew how much I loved it. I made the curtains from vintage sheets I found still in their packaging at the thrift store. And finally, the print that hangs above the bed was the one that hung in my mother's room for years. And somewhere on the tree there's a crocheted angel my great-grandmother made.....

Monday, December 15, 2014

Dairy-Free, Gluten-Free Christmas Baking

The tree has been up for a couple of weeks and the house is decorated so it's baking time!

I always bake traditional fruitcakes for my father every year, full of gluten and butter (and many pounds of nuts and fruits, a dozen eggs, a pound of get the idea). 

But for our own purposes I am baking a smattering of gluten-free, dairy-free goodies that I hope will carry us through to the New Year.  Here's the list:

Chocolate truffles (a must-have holiday treat for my son!)
"Reindeer Food"--a nightmarish concoction involving rice chex, powdered sugar, peanut butter, son loves this stuff....
Chocolate hazelnut meringues
Peanut Butter Balls
Almond cookies
Rice krispy candy 

Last week I made the rice krispy candy.  Today we're whipping up the meringues and the truffles.  I usually make truffles beautifully with two ingredients: chocolate and cream.  This year I had to modify to make them dairy-free. We'll make everything else later in the week. 

If I have good luck with these recipes I will share them!  

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Halloween Retrospective: My Favorite Porch

Beautiful simplicity!

(This is not my porch; my porch was laden with orange pumpkins from our garden and a variety of chrysanthemums.)

Monday, December 1, 2014

Pumpkin Muffins

Pumpkin chocolate-chip muffins, that is.  Gluten-free, dairy-free, vegan, and yummy.