Saturday, February 4, 2017

Valentine's French Hot Chocolate



Just hearing the words "Chocolate" and "Paris" seem to instantly conjure up dreamy notions of love. So naturally a sweet chocolatey treat inspired by this most romantic of cities seemed a perfect combination for celebrating l'amour this Valentine's. 
Leave it to the french to elevate, a winter childhood favorite, to a gourmet experience. Apparently, Chocolate Chaud, or their version of hot chocolate, is not the apres-sledding powder and marshmallow mix, warming tiny mitten clad hands, but a rich, decadent and grown-up luxury to be savored.
 Although I admit to overindulging in sweets and treats during my limited travels abroad, (I'm quite sure I've eaten my weight in macarons), I've never, sadly, had the chance to sample the famous hot chocolate of Paris. 
With limited time and budget barring any overseas jaunt and a wintry wind chilling the air, I thought I'd attempt this cozy yet decadent treat here at home. After several attempts at different chocolate chaud recipes (all in the name of selfless research of course) I found this relatively simple, not overly sweet but flavorful version from 

Chocolate Chaud
   
2 cups whole milk
5 ounces bittersweet chocolate chips
2 tablespoons light brown sugar  
  
 Heat the milk in a medium saucepan.When milk is warm, whisk in  chocolate, stirring until melted. Cook at a low boil for about 3 minutes, whisking constantly. Watch carefully as mixture may boil over.  Taste, and add brown sugar.
Chocolate will thicken upon standing
*The original recipe suggests a high quality bittersweet chocolate finely chopped, but I subbed the easier and less costly chocolate chips.

Cafe Cups
Unable to find the small round bowls often used for serving warm drinks in France, I improvised with oversized white mugs and plates from the dollar store.
 I used a glass friendly paint from my craft store to add some romantic sentiments "Je t'aime" and "Toi et Moi"  (I love you, You and Me) in pink and gold tones.
Simply follow your paint manufacturer's instructions and get creative














Flavored Whipped Cream
The chocolate is delicious as is but for added panache I thought I'd add a little flavored whipped cream topping. Simply whip one cup heavy cream and add one tablespoon powdered sugar and vanilla, raspberry or almond extract, adjusting to taste.

Wishing Everyone
 a 
Sweet Valentine's Day!




Sunday, January 22, 2017

Winter decor: Ice Skate Redo



While there a few things which tempt me into the great outdoors during winter's frigid cold, the thought of gliding carefree over a shimmering stretch of ice seems to be one them. There is something universally gleeful in this pastime which instantly turns everyone into kids again. 
Maybe that's why ice skates are so popularly featured in winter decor. Displayed as is, or adorned with sparkle, paint or trim, skates can brighten those chilly grey post holiday days and bring to mind the happiest of winter times.
They can be incorporated into your table decor for an Apres-Skate tea party or a skate makes a fun winter accent on a front door.
In skating over thin ice, our safety is our speed 

                                       Ralph Waldo Emerson

Ice Skate Redo
While these skates were past their prime,(the blade on one was damaged) this one gets a second act as a decorative accent when spruced up with a vintage printable and some craft store wintry sparkle  
Old skates can often be found at thrift stores and yard sales
You'll find lots of design ideas for decorated ice skates online, some truly works of art.
This redo required minimal artistic skills, just some paint and glue and glitter.
 I chose a pastel palette with white and "sparkly"  accents to match our theme, which handily, I already had in my trove of craft supplies.
faux fur trim and dimensional paint add an old fashioned touch
I added a pink pastel border to this sweet vintage skating duo from the thegraphicsfairy.com

Simply set the table in snowy shades like icy blue and creamy white and accent with wintry touches. Then warm up with a pot of tea and your favorite wintry store-bought or home made treats in shades echoing the season's snowy landscape.
a white woodland forest friend pays a visit. 
Bottle brush trees from Christmas decor are kept out for our winter woodland theme.
another take on the door decor: 
Instead of displaying with a wreath, fill skate with scaled down wintry nature inspired touches  

While I knew ice skating had been around for centuries, I didn't know much about its fascinating history

Some Ice Skating Fun Facts
Ice skates fashioned from animal bones were created as early as 3,000 bc.!) 

Skating and games on ice were popular in China as early as the Song Dynasty (which started in 960 AD) 

By the early middle ages, skating's popularity, as a both means of transport and recreation grew throughout Europe when skates now boasted more advanced edged metal blades 

The first skating club was founded in Scotland in 1740


By 1400 ice skaters had their own patron saint, Lidwina! 

Louis XVI, Madame Pompadour and Napoleon were all fans of the sport

Happy Skating and Thanks for Visiting!

Saturday, December 31, 2016

Happy New Year!


Wishing our beloved readers a Happy Healthy 2017!

We are flashing back to New Years' Past with some fun and easy DIY's to add some sparkle to your holiday

We made champagne truffles and party hats in break out the bubbly  
  
citrus meringues in champagne meringues
  
  Noisemakers and glass ornament bubbles Auld Lang Syne 
 
and sweet treats in Mimosa parfaits


“Ring out the old, ring in the new,
Ring, happy bells, across the snow:
The year is going, let him go;
Ring out the false, ring in the true.” 
― Alfred Tennyson

Saturday, December 17, 2016

Christmas by the Sea: Historic Cape May and Victorian Printable


Friends and frequent readers may have guessed from my many posts featuring Cape May NJ that this charming historic town is one of my very favorite places to visit. While winter finds other nearby beach resorts closing their shutters for a long winter's nap, Victorian Cape May dons her holiday festive finery, trims the tree and decks the halls. Now a yearly "girls getaway" tradition, four friends and relatives headed beachside for a little dose of coastal Christmas spirit. With limited time and budget, we still managed to have the most delightful visit and enjoy the sights and sounds of the season. So I thought I'd share our

Cape May Christmas To-do List


Get glimpse of Santa(s) at the Virginia Hotel
This elegant hotel adds some Christmas whimsy each year with playful climbing Santas


 Admire the "Gingerbread" Houses
Often referred to as "Gingerbread", Many Cape May houses boast intricate Victorian scrollwork and vibrant colors seemingly inspired by their candy covered namesakes


Step Back in Time at Congress Hall
America's oldest seaside resort (1816) began as a large but modest boarding house and grew in popularity and grandeur to host several presidents. John Philip Sousa composed the Congress Hall March in its honor after performing there. Nowadays it is transformed into a winter wonderland, delighting young and old at Christmas time.


OoH and aah over Holiday Lights
You won't want to miss a visit to the historic Emlen Physick Estate, capemaymac.org and their wonderful tree and Dicken's village in their gift shop and tea room. Take one of their trolley tours and learn about the town's unique history. Or simply stroll around the area to admire the houses, shops and B&B's by night.


Enjoy Holiday Shopping (or just browse)
Browse the areas unique mix of shops including Winterwood, a year round Christmas shop or the art and vintage co-op gallery West End Garage.

and of course
Eat Drink and Be Merry
Time out at one of our absolute favorites for award winning eats and
 the "Happiest" (and budget friendly) happy hour
The Mad Batter

Of course the real gift was fun times spent with friends and family!


Wishing everyone
the Joy of the Season
Please enjoy our Victorian Cape May inspired
 printable Christmas Card
simply right click on image and choose "open in new window" and print for holiday crafting and giving
Created using images from The Graphics Fairy, cat image from Pinterest, source unavailable 



Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Mini Poundcake Gingerbread Houses


 Despite my extremely limited baking skills, it seems as December approaches I invariably have the sudden desire to create those most complex of confections: a Gingerbread house. 
Past experiences have not gone well, resulting in collapsed roofs, piles of crumbs, an entire bottle of Elmer's glue and a quickly scribbled sign "Do Not Eat!"
In an effort to scale down my culinary expectations, I thought I'd attempt an easier mini version of a Gingerbread house with all of the spicy flavor, snowy icing, sweet details and none of the heartbreak.

You'll Need

gingerbread pound cake (bought or homemade)
white chocolate melts or almond bark
your choice of assorted candies, sprinkles and cake decorations
finely shredded coconut 
freeze gingerbread until firm
using a sharp knife cut into house-like shapes
I first cut in blocks then carved off diagonal sections for roof
brush crumbs off and return to freezer. 
Melt chocolate according to package directions, letting cool just slightly
Carefully dip roof of houses in white chocolate. Set houses on wax paper  letting some drip off like icicles. Top with sprinkles if desired or candy accents. I put some melted chocolate in a plastic baggie, snipped off the tip and piped some details like doors and windows.
 Since the houses are quite small I kept them relatively simple 
I opted for a snowy white theme but use your favorite holiday colors
Let harden completely and display on a bed of snowy coconut or powdered sugar.
You can set them on a tiered stand
or create a little town on a long tray
serve with a warm cup of tea 
Of course wasting cake is frowned upon in our household, so you can layer the leftover gingerbread scraps into an impromptu trifle with ice cream or Greek yogurt!

Gingerbread Fun Facts
    
  
The first gingerbread recipe is believed to be one from Greece from the year 2400BC!  

Henry the Vlll is thought to have eaten a ginger mixture in hopes of avoiding the plague!
  
Gingerbread houses appeared in Germany in the 16th century and were often decorated with gold leaf!
  
In 2006 the world's biggest Gingerbread house constructed in Texas required a building permit!

For these and more on the 
fascinating history of Gingerbread visit
 www.pbsfood

Wishing Everyone 
a
Sweet Holiday Season!




Sunday, November 20, 2016

Quick Thanksgiving Pumpkin Makeover


While nowadays everyone eagerly shares photos of their dinners on Instagram, what was served at the very first Thanksgiving remains a bit of a mystery. Historians believe that native fish, fowl, venison, squashes and berries featured prominently on the menu. 

Of course our perennial favorite, pumpkin pie as we know it, would appear many years later, but records indicate that English settlers of the time did often make a pumpkin custard by hollowing out pumpkins, filling the shells with milk, honey and spices and roasting them in hot ashes. Today, centuries later the festive pumpkin still figures largely in our Thanksgiving celebrations in all sorts of recipes, desserts and decorating. I thought I'd pay it homage with a quick and easy pumpkin makeover to spruce up your holiday table.
   
Pumpkin Makeover 
faux pumpkin
I had Halloween pumpkins still hanging around  
and picked one which was a bit worse for wear
(or there are many in craft stores on clearance)
spray paint in desired color
clear varnish
metallic puffy paint 
ribbon and crafty accents 
glue
"Give Thanks" printable
Although turkeys are usually the star of the show, 
I opted for this image of deer for something a bit different
Printable created with lovely vintage Fall images from the thegraphicsfairy.com

How to:
Simply spray your pumpkin desired shade, 
(I used a warm metallic rose gold tone) and let dry.
print image to desired size and cut out. 

Dot edges with metallic or jewel toned puffy paint to create a quick border 
 add any bling or accents desired
 I sprayed printable printout with a spritz of triple glaze varnish leftover from another project for a nice sheen
glue onto pumpkin and top with a bow or leaf sprig
simply display with some fall touches and natural elements
I used my mismatched china, thrift store bird themed plates with a similar color palette and gold chargers (yes, those chargers from the dollar store)

I am grateful for what I am and have.
 My thanksgiving is perpetual.
                               Henry David Thoreau

Wishing a Happy Thanksgiving to our US readers
and 
a Happy Autumn to our friends worldwide.

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

French Inspired Fall Picnic


With the last of the Halloween candy stash well finished off and Christmas decor already popping up in every store it's easy to let the Fall season pass us by in a blink. And though we've long bid "au revoir" to the sunny days of summer, Autumn offers an equally delightful a venue for outdoor pursuits. Crisp fresh air and glorious foliage lure us outside without the worrisome sweltering heat, swarms of skeeters, or sunburn.

 And what better excuse to spend the day outside than a leisurely afternoon picnic. While paper plates, burgers and flip flops are the mainstay of summer picnicking, Autumn is the perfect time to embrace a slightly (dare we say) more civilized take on dining al fresco. Whether at a park or on your patio, it's easy to create a cozy yet elegant fete when you include simple gourmet inspired treats, old fashioned fun and games and a few creature comforts. 


   
Bread & Cheese Covers
Of course with food being the star of the event, finding accessories that are portable, practical and pretty can be a challenge.
 Browsing one of my favorite magazines I came across the most delightful french bread covers which sadly came with a less than delightful price tag of over four hundred dollars. Quality and beauty aside this was a purchase which wasn't going to happen. Neither, sadly was a last minute pastoral retreat in the french countryside for that matter. 
 Not to worry, with some inexpensive baskets, printable labels and twine, I can give my outing a bit of french provincial charm and keep my cheese and baguettes pest free for pennies on the dollar.
Simply find suitable sized baskets and weave twine through top for a handle. 
 I then created labels using type and lovely images from the thegraphicsfairy.com and cut and decoupaged them on card stock.
 I then simply popped onto basket with glue.

Grandmom's Faux Boursin Cheese
While petite rounds of this savory, but pricey, french gourmet cheese make wonderful party fare, it's easy to whip up your own version with staples you probably have on hand for a fraction of the price.

This recipe was a favorite of my grandmother who always served it with traditional water crackers. But it's delightful with sliced crudités, baguettes or even as a sandwich spread with fresh veggies. 

1 package cream cheese, softened
8 oz butter, softened
1-2 teaspoons minced garlic (depending on taste)
1/4 tsp celery seed
1/4 tsp parsley
1/4 tsp chives


Mix all ingredients until blended and chill at least an hour or overnight. Add more or less of the herbs according to taste. The flavor is better if chilled longer.
Serve with baguettes spruced up with a quick wrap of parchment baking paper and a sprig of herbs.
We opted for simple fruit, bread, cheese and nuts for no fuss snacking, but for heartier fare, you could browse french cookbooks for recipes for quiches, vegetable terrines and tartes. Wine, mineral water or juices round out the menu.

Faux Boules
Though I couldn't tell you the difference between Boules, Bocci and Petanque, all describe wildly popular bowling games played throughout the world. In Europe it's commonplace to spot small groups of friends gathered, with great concentration, rolling metallic balls on patches of gravel or grass in public parks or town squares. In honor of this classic pastime I thought it would be fun to brush off my old bocci set which had been sitting idly in my garage forever and give it a quick makeover a la francais.
Bocci is a fun portable game and used sets can often be found at yard sales.
Boules uses shiny metallic balls with engraved grooves to differentiate them. I opted for an easy redo- using subtly different color metallic spray paints I had on hand. Simply perch on cups or lids, spray one side and let dry, flip over and paint the other side.

a thrift store basket (previously holding a child's tea) set makes a picnic perfect carrier
When the competition gets too fierce, books and art supplies provide relaxing ways to wile away the afternoon
"Shop" your house for accessories that add some comfort but aren't too precious to spend a day outside.
 A charming Waverly curtain swag (a clearance find at Lowe's) adds a pastoral touch.
Make sure to include some extra treats for unexpected guests. Our friend Tempest is getting a bit close to the wine.



Autumn is the hush before Winter    
                                        french proverb

for more Fall for francophiles (and the easiest apple tart) 
visit our post


Wishing 
everyone 
all the joys of Fall!