Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Love Notes: Easy Valentine decor

While the instant gratification of a text or email has it's place for practical purposes, when it comes to expressions of love, the time honored classic Valentine still holds it's own in our increasingly "paperless" world. 
This most romantic of holidays is said to be named for a 3rd century priest, later St. Valentine, who secretly married young couples against the emperors wishes. Imprisoned for his actions, some say he fell in love with the jailers daughter, penning his last letter to her signed "your Valentine"
Others credit these expressions of love to the amorous notes of the imprisoned Duke d'Orleans to his adored wife in the 1400's, one still in existence today today with the words "my very gentle valentine"
Letter from Duke of Orleans to his wife 1415
History by Zim
Centuries later the 1800's saw increased printing technology and decreased postage costs, contributing to the Valentine sending frenzy still in evidence today. In fact sources estimate that in 2015, over 145 million Valentines were sent in the U.S. alone.
For some fascinating facts about the holiday visit the fun and informative 
 History of the Card
Valentine cards are lots of fun to send to others but they can also add a little whimsy and romance to your own home holiday decor. 
While dimensional cards and delightful paper creations have been around for ages, I thought I'd share my quick and easy version that can be made in a snap with printouts and supplies you most likely have on hand. 

  I chose vintage images for their over the top romantic sentiment, (after all it's only once a year) but any era or style Valentine will do.
Vintage Valentine Dioramas
I used
vintage Valentine images from 
the graphics fairy
card stock or sturdy paper
weather stripping 
(since I needed such a small amount, I just snipped a bit off a roll, 
still plenty of r the windows)
craft knife and scissors
craft glue
glitter, accents and craft odds and ends

sweet images from the Graphics fairy site
I started by making three identical copies of each image on sturdy paper or card stock, adjusting to desired size.
Cut out image, leaving large sections on either side to fold back as stand later
One image will serve as the background and support, one the mid ground and one the foreground
The background will remain intact, then simply choose elements you want cut away from mid ground and foreground copies, the foreground the smallest having the most cut away to reveal layers behind.
Once your happy with your design, add any glitter, trim or accents. It's easier at this step
Then discreetly adhere a small bit of weather stripping at various points, some glue and press carefully but firmly between layers
(you can easily double stripping up for more dimension)
Place on a mantel
or under a cloche with romantic accents

Fun Facts
 In the 1800's "vinegar" Valentines with sometimes funny but often snarky comments were sent, usually and unfairly to spinsters, but also to pretentious or unlikeable acquaintances. In the late 1800's, 25,000 of these were seen as "unfit" to deliver and rejected by the US postal service

In the Middle Ages, people believed birds found their mates on February 14th, thus the dove and feathered friends in general, became popular symbols the holiday

A single rose represents love at first sight

Wishing Everyone the Happiest of Valentine's Days

Friday, January 29, 2016

Beary Sweet Valentine Candy Bears

While Valentine's Day often calls to mind great romance and grand passions, it's also a nice occasion to celebrate that affection we have for dear friends and family members. Why not delight a favorite child, or child at heart, with an easy and unabashedly cute sweet treat.
I admit I was inspired by the far too adorable "bear hugging an almond cookie";  a recipe gone viral in the baking and cookie enthusiast communities. Sadly with a less than stellar cookie baking record myself, I immediately started scrambling for alternatives on this darling theme.
found on Pinterest
I simply swapped a popular easy candy clay recipe for the more complicated cookie and added a store-bought candy hearts, no oven or burnt or broken cookie trauma.
Candy Clay
1 bag chocolate candy melts (any color or flavor)
I made two batches one white and one salted caramel
1/4 c corn syrup per batch
chocolate or candy hearts
mini chocolate chips
cake or other candy decorations if desired
*These bears are not for very small children

To Make Clay   
Simply melt candy according to directions
stir in corn syrup until dough forms
wrap in plastic and chill overnight or several hours until firm
I found a recipe and video here
Candy Clay video
No need for master level confectionery skills here- a simple and slightly imperfect bear shape adds to their charm
I let the clay sit to soften slightly- it will become more pliable when modeled from the warmth of you hands
I used mini chocolate chips for the eyes and nose,pressing eyes deeper into chocolate to appear smaller.
For the cupid bear, simply cut a white gummy heart in two and adhere to back - I melted a very small amount of leftover white chocolate to use as glue
press heart candy onto bear's tummy and wrap arms around
Using the same leftover melted chocolate you can add sugar flowers as hats or accents if desired. 
Once molded the bears can be re-chilled until firm
They can also be perched into a cupcake liner and packaged with a tag for gifting
vintage bear image: http://www.canterbury.co.uk/museums/

Wishing everyone 
A Delightful Valentine's Day!

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Mimosa Parfaits: Happy New Year!

Though never one to turn down the festive excitement of a big New Year's Eve party, I find nowadays I prefer the quieter, less frenzied celebration of New Year's Day. With no harried anticipation of the midnight hour, a more casual brunch or lunch takes a leisurely pace, perfect for resting up before returning to the hurry and flurry of everyday life. Of course still being in holiday mode, celebratory sweets and indulgences are a menu must, even if on the lighter side, after all of the seasonal excess.
I thought I'd try a twist on the classic brunch Mimosa by incorporating it's flavors of orange and champagne in a simple parfait, garnished with the obligatory strawberry of course. An online search yielded dozens of wonderful champagne and mimosa jellied desserts and molds recipes, I improvised with this easy version set in champagne flutes. Serve with fruit or your favorite brunch or luncheon fare
Mimosa Parfaits
You'll Need
for the orange layer
orange jello
(yes its trendy again!)
orange juice
Prepare jello according to package instructions, substituting orange juice for the cold water
pour layer into champagne flute leaving room for next layer and chill
I made six flutes but had some leftover 
for the champagne layer
I followed this recipe from the delightful 
and simply omitted the pomegranate seeds
  • 1 1/2 tbs unflavored gelatin
  •  (about 1 1/2 packages)
  • 1/2 cup cold water
  • 1 cup boiling water
  • 2 tablespoons sugar 
  • 3/4 cup sparkling wine or champagne

  • In a medium glass bowl, sprinkle gelatin over cold water. 
  • Let soften for about 3 minutes
  • Whisk in boiling water until gelatin is completely dissolved
  • Whisk in sugar until dissolved. 
  • Stir in champagne. 
  • Reserve about 1/3 of a cup and chill in separate bowl.
  • Pour the rest carefully over orange layer and pop in a sliced strawberry 
  • Chill until firm (mine took about 40 minutes)
If desired, moisten the rims of the glasses and dip in sugar sprinkles. To add a bubbly foam on top, blend reserved champagne gelatin with hand mixer or whisk and spoon on top especially around inside edge of flutes where bubbles naturally form. 
Set on a tray and enjoy.
Don't worry they're spill proof!

Bottles of bubbly get adorned with finery (strips of fur craft trim and costume jewelry) after an idea from Pier One

Last years DIY party hat adds a festive touch while a bird marks the passing hour. Long ice tea spoons are perfect for tall glasses
a silver ball atop a vintage clock gives a tiny nod to Times Square
It's fun to give a nod to some of the unique New Year's traditions from around the world in your decor and tablescape with fun props/conversation starters.
Some Fun Facts:
In the US we have been watching the famous ball drop in Times Square since 1907
In Columbia carrying your luggage around on December 31st ensures a year of travel and adventure
Brazilians offer white flowers to the sea goddess on Mew Years to help their wishes come true
In the Philippines eating round shaped fruit like oranges promises good fortune
(I had both leftover from my Nutcracker post)
And of course champagne, feasts and smooching are thought to bring happiness and plenty in the coming year in the US and many countries around the globe
Wishing everyone health and happiness, love and laughter in the New Year!

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Season's Greetings

Many Thanks to our delightful Readers 
for your kind support and comments.
Here's to another year of creative crafting, kitchen capers and celebrating life's little moments.
Merry Christmas *Happy Holidays*
Joyeux Noel* God Jul* 
Feliz Navidad
*Happy New Year*
Wishing everyone all the Joys of the Season 
Peace, Health and Happiness in the coming year!

Sunday, November 29, 2015

Visions of Sugar Plums: Nutcracker Sweets

 Without a doubt candies and confections play a sweet and starring role in the celebration of the Christmas season. Ironically one of the most oft mentioned holiday treats is the rather mysterious, but delightfully named sugar plum. 
     Generations of children have read of little ones drifting off to sleep dreaming of the confections in the classic Night before Christmas poem or perhaps seen the magical Sugar Plum Fairy dance across the stage in the famous Nutcracker ballet, but, many, myself included, hadn't a clue as to what exactly a sugar plum was.
images from the Graphics Fairy
      While some quick research revealed some conflicting ideas, the overall consensus was that these treats, which did not contain plums, were based on the sugar coated seeds and exotic spices called confits popular in Europe in the 1600's. Painstakingly made with layers of sugar syrup, they were a luxury for the wealthy and royals until later advances in production made them more readily and inexpensively available. 
      Fast forward to today and you can find a myriad of recipes for this centuries old treat, most including a combination of dried fruits such as dates and apricots, nuts, honey, sugar and assorted spices.
     I decided to whip up an easier, if not completely historically accurate version, and spruce them up with some colorful chocolate and a little sparkle.
I used
1 1/4 cup assorted mixed dried fruits
I bought  a package of mixed fruits including
dried apricots, golden raisins, peaches apples and cranberries
 but any of your  favorites will do
1 1/4 cup almonds
4 tbs honey
spices: 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon, dash nutmeg
chocolate melts, pink, white or lavender
assorted sprinkles

if desired "toast" almonds in a dry skillet for a minute or two to bring out flavor, stirring constantly
Give fruit and nuts a quick whirl in a food processor until finely minced. 
In bowl stir in honey and spices. 
Roll into balls and set on a tray lined with wax paper, chill until firm- you may need to moisten hands often to prevent sticking
Although healthier than many holiday treats, they sadly don't rank among the prettiest. 
To the rescue, a light coat of chocolate melts and some sprinkle magic. Simply melt chocolate according to instructions and spoon over sugar plums. Garnish with sprinkles or dust with powdered sugar and let cool completely

 I added some wintery Nutcracker themed decor and DIY party favors.
A mini nutcracker and royal mouse hold court under a glass dome.

Sugar Plum Fairy Wands 
I used:
A set of wands craft kit 
snowflake ornaments 
(both from dollar store)
assorted scrapbook paper
ribbon, trim, odds and ends
I simply spray painted some fun foam wands
Images from the Graphics Fairy (Love her!)
cut and glued some images

 and had fun decorating

With the table set it's time to relax with a cup of tea. Sugar plums make an elegant snack after the watching the ballet
(even if it's just at home on TV)

Wishing all our readers 
a Magical Holiday Season

Monday, November 23, 2015

Chalkboard Cookies: Quick and Easy Holiday Treat

As someone with limited baking skills, I always get a slight twinge of anxiety when, as the holidays approach, a deluge of fabulous cookie recipes appear online, festive cookie exchange parties are planned and magazines feature picture perfect treats on their glossy covers. 
An avid consumer of sweets, I ironically never mastered the particular art of these bite size delights. Of course this doesn't stop me from poring over recipes during on a recent search, I found dozens of fabulous ideas for the most delightful chalkboard cookies!
As expected, most of these beautifully made cookies required a scratch recipe, fondant or carefully crafted royal icing. How, I pondered could I whip up a just-about-as-cute but simpler semi scratch version?
With some trial and error, store-bought cookies, some vanilla and black chocolate melts (leftover from Halloween), I concocted a fast and easy adaptation of these trendy treats. 
With chalkboard "everything" still going strong in the world of decor and crafts, these cookies go with a variety of themes and can be customized for any time of year including, Thanksgiving, or Christmas, or make a sweet gift for teachers.

You'll Need
Any plain flat round cookies 
(I used sugar and chocolate from my local supermarket)
black and white chocolate melts
plain white and wax paper
confectioner's sugar
Wiltons white cookie icing
fine paint brush

Lay out plain white or parchment paper and using black chocolate melt trace out cookie shapes, spacing an inch or so apart.
Cover with wax paper so tracing is clearly visible
Melt black chocolate according to instructions. 
Gently spoon chocolate onto wax paper in center of traced circles, leaving border around inside edge
While still warm, gently press the cookies into chocolate
Let cool completely 
peel cookies carefully from paper and turn over 
the chocolate should have a smooth surface
break a few white chocolate rounds in pieces to use as "chalk"
and write on cookie. 
you can warm (but don't melt) white wafers slightly in microwave for a few seconds for brighter color writing
If desired rub a bit of powdered sugar around edge of chocolate for a chalky finish
for more detailed look or brighter white you can create designs using a new clean paint brush and ready made icing
simply melt icing according to directions, pour onto a plate and paint on or use a combination of the white wafers accented with icing
While this technique doesn't render the most perfect lettering, the effect is lots of fun and it's an easy, enjoyable kitchen activity for kid's to help you with
Serve with tea or cocoa and arrange with seasonal accents 

or use winter or Christmas themes to enjoy or give as holiday gifts

Wherever you are and whatever you celebrate,
Wishing our wonderful readers all the sweetness
of the