Thursday, January 8, 2015

Ring Carson for Tea:Welcome back Downton Abbey

Perhaps we can credit the Abbey's scenic grandeur, elegant settings, or edge-of-your-seat intrigue, both above and below the stairs (really Thomas?), with its unprecedented popularity both stateside and across the pond, but for me, it's also the magnificent costumes which keep me utterly enchanted by this series, season after season.
Naturally I was more than delighted to receive a gift of tickets to Winterthur Museum's exhibit, the Costumes of Downton Abbey in nearby Delaware, and it did not disappoint. 
Photos CPaul2014
Former estate of the du Pont family, the gracious Winterthur Museum displayed the costumes and accessories in elegant vignettes with information on the designs, historical context, sources, and stills from the show. It was fascinating to see how the clothing, textures and subtle details translated from screen to reality.
This exhibit has closed but others are popping up around the US and Canada- (Biltmore in N.C. will welcome the costumes in February) or for an interview with Downton's talented costume designer pop over to downton-abbey-costume-queen For more on Winterthur's exhibits and events visit 
Sadly my camera decided to misbehave that of all days, so I came home with limited photos but lots of inspiration. I thought I'd share some whimsical DIY projects to bring a little Downton into your everyday
*Historians and purists please note, these ideas are purely a fun nod to the era so please forgive the glaring historical inaccuracies 

Edwardian Costume Choker

 While I'd love to don one of the great outfits from the exhibit, I'll settle for a fun DIY accessory with basics from my closet to help set the tone for a Downton tea at home with friends. An online search found a myriad of jewelry items and accessories inspired by the show including this fabulous tutorial for a lace one by love Maegan. Loving the look but lacking much sewing prowess, I thought I'd come up with a simpler temporary party favor version to put together in minutes.

You'll need
wide black lace or edging with interesting details
velcro dots
printable-accented with metallic pens
faux jewels or accents 
images, CPaul, graphics fairy, Dearestgeeksof
simply measure and cut lace for neck size and glue velcro dot on each end. I then spritzed the image with clear varnish and once dry attached with hot glue. Accent with some sparkle and stick-on jewels.

While the show spans a decade of transitions in fashion, Dowager Violet still prefers the high necklines popular in her day.

Petite "Faux" Charlotte Russe
Created for the Czar Alexander' s daughter Princess Charlotte by famed french Chef Careme, and popular in Downton's day, this elegant dessert can be complicated to create. Since my kitchen staff consists of several curious feline friends rather than the able Mrs. Patmore and her crew, I thought I'd opt for a simpler no fuss recipe, in the spirit of the confection. This, perhaps healthier, adaptation uses light cream cheese and Greek yogurt in tune with January's resolutions.

You'll Need
Lady Fingers 
(I used 12 but will depend on size)
1 8oz regular or neuchatel cream cheese (softened)
1 container Greek yogurt (5.3 oz) 
(any fruit flavor)
2/3 cup confectioners sugar
1/2 tsp orange or other flavored extract
berries, whipped cream, mint for garnishing
This is adapted from a recipe for Couers du Creme on my Valentine's day post 
or makes a nice fruit dip as well
Line a 6" round or square container with plastic wrap leaving extra hanging over edge
*If using a larger container you can adjust ingredient amounts as needed
arrange Lady fingers around edge, pressing together where they meet
Fill with cream cheese mixture and smooth evenly
cover with Lady fingers, tearing pieces to fit if needed
(this will be the bottom so no one will see it anyway)
Cover with plastic and
Chill several hours or overnight

Invert onto decorative plate and carefully remove plastic
garnish as desired
Set the table and serve with tea of course
I added props like silk flowers and "family photos
(images found online,  printed in sepia tone and popped into frames)

Carson gets an earful, scene from Downton Abbey
With much of the show dealing with Downton's residents adapting to the "modern" world, (who can forget the Dowager wrestling with a swivel chair) the gramophone becomes one of the symbols of the new age. I've seen modernized versions of gramophones which connect to smartphones in chic home shops but thought I'd make a more humble DIY version in homage to this retro now hip icon.
I used:
mini speaker for phone or iPod 
(I got one from the store Five below)
small cardboard box, paper tubes, 
plastic cup, lid, straws and paper bowl
faux wood shelf paper
black, brown and metallic spray paint
Printable labels and accents
printed from fun site featuring labels from 1898-1926
This project channels your inner kindergartner by simply assembling boxes and odds and ends until, through trial and error, you're happy with the result. Here's a brief run down of what I did. 

I cut out an opening to fit the speaker and then covered the box with "wood" paper. 
I hot glued the bowl and cup together, adding an angled cut piece from the cardboard roll, and sprayed it gold.
An old lid painted black makes a record with a printed out vintage label
I then hot glued it all together, adding supports where needed 
add some details like some gold painted craft sticks and labels found online
My husband , taking this literally asked where the handle was- so I quickly painted two bendy straws and voila!
You can here a snippet of it playing on PennWise's facebook page
Turn on some old fashioned tunes and dance the night away!

 For more Downton DIY's visit our previous post 
Tea Time at Downton Abbey
Downton Masks, DIY Abbey votive, Earl grey shortbread spoons

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Break out the Bubbly: New Year's Eve Champagne Truffles

No one really knows how champagne became the official drink of New Year's Eve, but in cultures around the globe this bubbly beverage, or an effervescent alternative is a must-have. 
While never one to turn down a flute of something sparkly, this year I thought I'd indulge my sweet tooth by adding this festive drink to some white chocolate truffles for a sweet confection before the healthful resolutions kick in.
Champagne Truffles
Label using image from the Graphics Fairy
There are many truffle recipes to be found online, most using a combination of white or dark chocolate, cream and butter as a base with a variety of add ins or toppings. I used this yummy one from a candy section of

I used a leftover mini bottle of champagne 
as the recipe only required 1/4 cup
I added festive silver sprinkles
You can pop truffles into flutes (glass or plastic) and print your own labels to make fun favors or add a name to use as place settings
or serve with fresh strawberries

Dollar Store Decor
After the creative hustle and bustle of the holiday season, and with Christmas decor still up and aglow, I like to keep New Year's adornments simple but festive. Some repurposed holiday ornaments and a few spruced up dollar store finds give a stress-free nod to the holiday without too much fuss or expense.
a top hat gets some flair thanks to scrap paper, printable and bling.
Hats and masks also make fun photo props for guests.
a $1 mask gets a quick makeover

Christmas balls in white and gold make whimsical "bubbles"

Make a toast and wait until midnight!
I nestled a small clock in snowflakes and stars under a cloche
 (a quick sub from last weeks Christmas village)

For more New Year's Eve DIY projects 
check out our past posts
ornament "bubbles" and noisemaker makeovers
from: auld lang syne
Pink champagne meringues
fromto sweet a New Year

Wishing everyone health, Happiness and prosperity in the coming year!

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Yuletide Tour: Winterthur Museum

 This March I received a delightful birthday gift from my Aunt- tickets to an exhibit of Downton Abbey Costumes at the lovely Winterthur Museum in Delaware. Turns out our scheduling conflicts and delays worked to our advantage as, visiting just this past week, we were also luckily able to catch the museum's festive Holiday Yuletide Tour. 
This vast elegant estate, formerly home of the du Ponts, boasts extensive gardens, fascinating collections of American antiques and a busy research library. Although my camera sadly was being uncooperative, I thought I'd share a few photos anyway, and to our Downton fans, I'll be including photos from the wonderful exhibit in a future post.
for more information on the museum and exhibits visit

The blue tree accented with daffodils echoes flowers on the grounds come spring

 An avid horticulturist, du Pont no doubt would have been pleased this floral tree brimming with hydrangeas and peonies

a sweet feather tree and tea by the fire

the "Downton" tree is adorned with pearls, crowns and little bells (shall we ring for Carson)
Gifts arranged in labeled individual baskets- such a charming idea

 Holiday music of the day
 a spot of tea
The soaring conservatory features a towering tree and pops of red poinsettias

Wishing everyone 
Joys of the Season

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Home for the holidays: Mason Jar Elf Cottage

While the wildly popular "Elf on a Shelf" has taken the world by storm in recent holiday seasons, his pint sized ancestors have been part of folklore in cultures around the world for centuries. From magical to mischievous, in a variety of incarnations and called by different names, these tiny friends seem to capture our imaginations especially around the winter holidays. 
So whether you share your home with a gnome, Nisse, Elf or Brownie or two, you can keep the wee folk warm and toasty this season in their own cottages fashioned from repurposed jars and basic craft supplies.
clockwise from top paintings by Swedish artist Jenny Nystrom
vintage Spanish Christmas Card found on Pinterest
Ein Apfelchen furs Rentier (An apple for the Reindeer)
Foto: Getty Images / Per Breiehagen

You'll Need:
Assorted jars, preferably with smooth sides
 multi surface (glass friendly) craft paint
clear or white glitter
faux wood contact or decorative paper
party hats
faux moss, snow, printables, accessories as desired
flameless votives
I first rinsed the jars and allowed to dry.
I then decided on a design and painted around window frames or any area I wished to remain clear first.
Then I filled in around clear areas with colors of choice (I chose frosty white with brown trim) this took two coats.
While paint was wet I sprinkled with glitter for a snowy finish.
I fashioned doors out of faux wood paper (Modge podged onto sturdy cardstock) but for larger projects you could opt for a popsicle stick elf door like the version I shared on my Scandinavian Christmas post
The roof was simply faux wood paper attached to party hats (left over from my Autumn Apple cones) or folded to form a roof shape.
Moss and a printable sign add the finishing touches.
Display with wintry props and forest friends
Pop in a flameless votive or two (I used salad tongs for the tall one)

Wishing everyone the joys wonders of the Winter Season!

Don't Like to Paint?
I adapted this idea from a toadstool cottage -(a jar candle covered with polymer clay) I found online which is adorable. Unfortunately for me the instructions are in Chinese but the step by step photos are pretty clear.

Wishing everyone the joys wonders of the Winter Season!

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Happy Thanksgiving!

Wishing all our U.S. readers the Happiest of Thanksgivings!

Many Thanks from PennyWise for all your kind comments, input, and support.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

An Apple a Day: Easy Autumn Baked Apple Chips

It seems the humble apple suddenly takes on a sort of magic in the Autumn; baked into pies and cobblers, warmed as mulled cider or drizzled with caramel it's suddenly the must-have flavor to accompany hay rides, firesides and leaf raking. While never one to turn down these gloriously gooey sugar laden apple sweets, I found dozens of incredibly easy healthier apple snack recipes like these chips on Pinterest. 
I adapted this delicious one from kosher on a budget but there's also a pear version I'm dying to try from kleinworth & co. 

Cinnamon Sugar Baked Apple Chips

I experimented a bit as this is really a non-recipe, recipe. 

 2 large apples (I made a smaller batch but can it be doubled)
cinnamon for sprinkling 
1 Teaspoon sugar
Thinly slice apples into chips. Sprinkle generously with cinnamon and top with sugar
 arrange on parchment lined cookie sheet
Bake at 250 degrees 1 1/2 -2 hours, depending on oven 
flip once or twice, until light golden brown and chip-like.
(It's a long cooking time but makes the house smell divine) 

I then popped them in festive cones fashioned from party hats, decorative paper and DIY labels. 
 I created these using images from the Graphics Fairy and added type (one in french for gourmet flair)

For cones, simply remove elastic and unfold party hat to use as template to cut decorative paper

Fold and secure paper into cone shape if sturdy enough or if lightweight paper place over hat for extra support. Add images or embellishments if desired with tape or hot glue. I cut the edges of  natural coffee filters and added as trim

line cone with wax paper and fill with chips and display in a basket of you like.

"Autumn is the mellower season, and what we lose in flowers we more than gain in fruits"                         

                            Samuel Butler

Options and Add-ins
Toss with raisins, dates or toasted walnuts for fall trail mix
Serve on a platter with greek honey yogurt for dipping

Thanks for Visiting and wishing everyone a Happy Fall!