It’s the Little Things

This year more than any other, I think that the holidays will be about the little things. We will all be staying home, and cooking for a small crowd. What better time to try new things, like new recipes, and new ways to make your table setting really special? Below, I’m sharing a few ways to really make the holiday season special.

Flower Arranging:
How about honing your flower arranging skills. I personally love combining grocery store flowers and pumpkins and gourds, with branches and herbs I forage from the garden every year. It’s a great time to use an unexpected vessel, like an old pitcher or a soup tureen.

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Here are some easy tips on flower arranging:

While it might seem like a daunting task, arranging your own flowers can be simple yet stunning, and honestly, nothing gives me more pleasure than to arrange flowers for my own home or parties. If you follow a few easy steps, you’ll be arranging your own flowers in no time!

When beginning the design process, I start with what’s available at my local market (and even Trader Joe’s!), and I try to select a strong color theme. Selecting just one color flower, but choosing several varieties in that same color, is an easy way to pack a punch without a lot of thought. It honestly cuts way down on the stress, especially if you’re not quite ready for combining colors.

Step one: clean the bottom of the stems, and make a fresh cut.

Step two: place all the fillers in your container. For this arrangement, I’ve chosen a pitcher for my container, and Queen Anne’s Lace and Baby’s Breath as fillers.

Step three: add in your larger blooms. Be sure to work your way around the vase or pitcher. Either move around the table as you work, or spin your container to make sure your stems are even.

Step four: step back and fluff your arrangement as needed. Try to change the water every 2-3 days, and cut the stems on a diagonal every few days, too. This will keep your arrangement fresh and pretty! You can add the gourds and pumpkins around the table, maybe add a few smaller vases as well strewn around the table. More is more and more is better.

Making a Charcuterie Board:

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Create a special Charcuterie Board for your family. I usually prepare this as lunch. It’s super fun to design and even more, fun to eat. You can nibble while your main course cooks. Great if you’re watching games or working on a puzzle.

Setting the Table:

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This is R. Woods Tablescape small but lovely

I think that setting the table with a glass of wine in hand the night before is always fun. I like to put on some festive music and take my time.

Some of my go-to affordable table sources are Zara Home, Ikea, and Pottery Barn. Every year I try to buy some little addition to my table. This year I bought more candlesticks just to make the table even more glowy and happy. I also ordered some new colorful table wares from my friend potter Rebecca Wood, she also offers Ikebana Floral Lessons if you’re interested.

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This a table from the Zara Home Collection

My takeaway message is to make it special even if this year is so much different than every other year. Count your blessings and stay safe. Next year will be a big year to celebrate all the sacrifices we made. Keep the faith and keep your distance. And use this extra time to learn a craft and next year you’ll be a decorating pro. Happy Holidays.

xx Annette

 

 

 

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The Florentine holiday lights in 2020

IMG_9214 I wanted to take a moment to introduce you to my friend Alexandra Lawrence, when we visit with guests in Florence she is my go to tour guide. She’s one to put into your contacts and make sure to book her early.

I know we all miss travel to Italy, so today I am taking you all to Florence to tour the Holiday Lights in Florence. I’ve invited Florentine Alexandra to join me on the blog as a guest contributor to tell you all about the lights this year. The Holidays lights of Florence are always an exciting subject. In fact she will take us on a virtual tour on Wed. Dec. 9th at Noon ET on my IG LIVE so mark your calendar and be whisked away to Florence to see this year’s holiday lights in Florence.

Take a moment to read as Alexandra explains the meaning behind 2020’s holiday lights.

Take it away Alexandra:

It’s no secret that Italians love to commemorate things. Ceremonies, exhibitions, and conferences are constantly being dedicated to an artist’s 500th birthday or to the 1000th anniversary of a church consecration. Some of the commemorations come and go without much notice (there are a rather lot of them), but others are rightfully treated as a ‘big deal’.

The upcoming celebrations surrounding 700 years of Dante Alighieri are of the latter variety.

Born in 1265 in Florence, the great poet was exiled from the city in a particularly explosive moment of political drama at age 27. Already quite famous for his verses—mostly love poetry—Dante spent the rest of his life wandering the Italian peninsula serving various noble courts. He brought them prestige, and they let him use their libraries.

It was there, in those libraries, where he wrote his epic poem—a journey he claims he actually took down through the underworld, up the mountain of purgatory, and straight-up through the heavens. He called the poem the Comedy. (Another Florentine author one generation removed, Giovanni Boccaccio, would add the superlative ‘Divine’ to the title.)

The Comedy was an immediate smash—copied and recopied, read and re-read out loud for all to hear and to enjoy. As the first epic poem since antiquity to be written in the vernacular, Dante’s journey was meant to be understood by everyone, not just scholars and nobles.

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graphic by Betty Soldi

Dante fills his tale with well-known names from history, from The Bible, from Greek and Roman mythology, but also with contemporary figures—ones that would raise eyebrows and elicit both hidden smiles and out-loud-gasps from readers. It is just one way he ensures that we are there with him, adventuring along with the poet-pilgrim on this terrifying and exhilarating ride.

It is a salvation story and a hero’s journey all rolled into one. It is, Dante tells us, also our story—if we want it to be. Offering a sort of existential road map to a happy ending, the Comedy is proof, to paraphrase Robert Frost, that the best way out is through.

All of us who have lived through this incredibly trying pandemic year know a little something about that kind of resiliency now. It is a truly glorious thing that we can read Dante’s Divine Comedy 700 years after it was written and find that universal truth inside. And that alone is worth celebrating.

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We hope you will join us on Wednesday, December 9th at 12 PM EST, 6 PM CET for on my IG Live for walk through of the Florentine holiday lights, which are dedicated to Dante Alighieri for the very first time.

Alexandra Lawrence is an expert in the language and art of Italy. She has lived in Florence for over 20 years, where she is a lecturer of art history and contemporary Italian cultural studies. While completing her graduate work in Italian Language and Literature, Alexandra concentrated primarily on writers and poets and their relationship to the visual arts—a subject that continues to inform her work.

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Alexandra is an accredited guide for Italian museums and archeological sites, and has worked with several high-profile clients including England’s royal family. Her walks are featured in Condé Nast Traveler as one of the ‘Best 16 Things to Do in Florence’.

In 2020, she founded Forma Sideris, a space to have guided conversations about Italy and its art, literature, culture, and history. She is currently offering a virtual 6-week course on the Divine Comedy which will begin in January 2021. For more on ‘Divine Dante’, please see the course page here.

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DIY Hanging Wreath

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I love the idea of doing a holiday table under our patio arbor, especially this year. As I discussed, I’m discouraging holiday gatherings, but I’m absolutely encouraging sprucing up your home for the season. It will bring you so much joy. Plus, if the weather allows, you can take your family dinner outdoors.

I got my inspiration for this set-up from Swedish Christmas design. It’s always so simple; paired down and classic.

This DIY for a hanging wreath is easy and really pretty. It looks so much more complicated than it is. Happy Holidays!

To Create:

1. Form the garland into a circle.

2. Secure the wreath in 3 places with floral wire.

3. Attach the ornaments with twine.

4. Using 4 pieces of ribbon about 3 feet long, tie the wreath to your light fixture or chandelier. Note: this can be suspended from the ceiling with longer pieces of ribbon or with hooks.

xx

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Alex’s Moon Pies

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So many of you asked for this recipe, and Nicole my web manager, was like “We have to post this story and the recipe!” so here you are…here’s the story about Alex’s moonpies.

My daughter Alex has always been a great baker; maybe it’s her analytic Virgo nature, but baking has always appealed to her. Although she is a good cook, baking is her thing. One of the best things she makes, (her Dad’s favorite) is Moon Pies. This Thanksgiving, she shared the story of how she became acquainted with the recipe I had never heard the story and thought it was fun.

She was not very familiar with Moon Pies. Although it is a quintessentially Southern sweet, it’s not something that she grew up with in our house. Most kids grew up on Little Debbie’s Moon Pies in Atlanta, but not our kids. Although we do enjoy Southern fare, this was not something in the pantry while they were growing up. Not because they aren’t delicious, but they were never on my radar probably because of my Midwestern roots. (Note* I had never tasted a biscuit until I was 23 years old when we moved to Atlanta.) Southern food was a mystery to me. I digress…

Alex went to Law school, and when she graduated she found herself in Fitzgerald, Georgia, in the deep South clerking for a Judge. She loved living in this small town and working in the courthouse. The Judge was very kind, and she learned a lot.

One day, she walked into the Judge’s office and said, “I know it’s your birthday next week, and I would love to bake you something you would enjoy, so if there’s something special you like let me know.” The next day the Judge came into her office with a recipe for Moon Pies. Having never tasted a Moon Pie, she was a bit nervous about making them for his special day. Even though the recipe was involved, she thought they turned out great, although she never tasted the batch, she delivered them on his birthday hoping for the best. The next day he came into her office and declared that the Moon Pies were absolutely delicious! Relived and curious, Alex made the recipe again, this time tasting them. Wow, she thought, worth all the effort. They were truly incredible.

Moon Pies have now become Alex’s signature dessert, her Dad asks for them for all birthdays and holidays. They have become a staple dessert. Who knew what we were missing all those years.

Here is the recipe from Garden and Gun Feb/March 2014:

It is labor-intensive, but truly worth the effort.

Do-It Yourself Moon Pies

For the dough, you will need:
– 6 oz. unsalted butter
– 1/4 cup light brown sugar, firmly packed
– 1/4 cup Steen’s cane syrup
– 1/4 tsp. vanilla extract
– 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
– 1 1/4 cups graham cracker crumbs, ground fine
– 3/4 tsp. kosher salt
– 1/2 tsp. baking powder
– 1/2 tsp. baking soda
– 1/4 tsp. ground cinnamon
– 2 tbsp. whole milk

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For the Marshmallow, you will need:
– F4 tsp. powdered gelatin
– 1/2 cup water, ice cold, plus 1/4 cup at room temperature
– 4 tbsp. light corn syrup
– 3 tbsp. honey (clover or wildflower)
– 3/4 cup granulated sugar
– 3 large grade-A egg whites

For the chocolate coating, you will need:
– 1 lb bittersweet chocolate (61-70% cacao)
– 2 tbsp vegetable or canola oil.

To prepare:

For the cookie dough:

    Cream butter, brown sugar, syrup, and vanilla in the bowl of an electric mixer, using the paddle attachment, for 1 minute.
    In a separate bowl, combine dry ingredients and mix with a fork. Add dry ingredients to butter mixture and mix on low speed; slowly stream in milk. Continue mixing until the dough comes together. Press dough flat, wrap it in plastic, and refrigerate for at least 1 hour.
    Preheat oven to 325 degrees.
    Turn out chilled dough onto a flour-dusted surface, then roll it until it is ¼ inch thick. Stamp out cookies using a 3-inch round cookie cutter. Place cookies on a parchment-lined baking sheet and bake 10 to 12 minutes. Remove sheet from oven, and while the cookies are cooling, start your marshmallow.

For the marshmallow:

Sprinkle gelatin over ½ cup ice-cold water, and set aside.

Combine ¼ cup room-temperature water, corn syrup, honey, and sugar in a small pot, insert candy thermometer, and simmer until mixture reaches 240 degrees. When the thermometer reaches 200 degrees—but not before—place egg whites in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a whisk attachment, and whip on high.

Once the sugar mixture hits 240, remove it from heat, and stir in the bloomed gelatin. Then, while egg whites are whipping, slowly drizzle the hot sugar mixture down the inside of the bowl to avoid spattering the hot syrup. Continue whipping for an additional 8 minutes, until the mixture stiffens. The pan will still feel warm to the touch but no longer hot.

Flip over half of the cooled cookies. Lightly coat a spoon with nonstick cooking spray, and spoon approximately a quarter cup of marshmallow onto each flipped cookie. Use the remaining cookies as tops; gently push down until you can see the marshmallow come just to the edge. While making the chocolate coating (see below), allow cookies to chill in refrigerator for at least 15 minutes.

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For the chocolate coating: 

Melt chocolate in a heatproof bowl set over a small saucepan of simmering water. Stir until chocolate has melted, then remove bowl from heat and let it cool slightly. Once the chocolate is no longer hot, but warm, slowly whisk in oil in a steady stream. Allow chocolate to cool at room temperature for about 5 minutes before proceeding with assembly.

To Assemble: 

Submerge chilled cookies in the chocolate, using 2 forks to gently lift the sandwiches out of the bowl. Let stand until shell hardens.

Photos: Garden and Gun, Feb/March 2014 Photo Credit : Johnny Autry, Recipe by David Guas Current restaurant: Bayou Bakery, Coffee Bar & Eatery, Arlington, VA

 

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Asparagus Quiche: It’s what’s for dinner

Baby Shower

If you ask me, quiche is perfect anytime of day and for any occasion. It makes a lovely breakfast, especially for a crowd, but it also makes an incredible dinner. Serve it with a light salad for a complete meal.

This asparagus quiche recipe would be a great addition to any Easter menu, too, which is only a few weeks away. You can easily make it ahead of time and pop it into the oven before heading out the door or before people arrive! There’s nothing better than a simple dish that packs a lot of punch. Enjoy this seasonal spring dish!

Asparagus Quiche
Makes 1- 8″ round Quiche serves 8-10
For the filling you will need:

– 1/2 lb. fresh asparagus
– 8 eggs
– 1 cup shredded mozzarella
– 1 cup half and half
– 1/2 teaspoon salt


To prepare:

In a large bowl whisk eggs and cream and cheese and salt. Reserve 5 spears of asparagus for the top of the quiche. Cut the remainder into 1/2 inch pieces and add to the egg mixture. Combine and set aside make the crust.

For the crust you will need:

– 1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
– 1 stick of butter chilled and cut into 1/2 cubes
– 1/4 cup chilled water
– 1/2 teaspoon salt

To prepare:

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

In the bowl of a standing mixer, place the flour and the butter and salt. Using the paddle attachment on medium speed, combine the butter and flour until it resembles pebble size crumbs. Next add water until mixture comes together into a ball. *(note you may need to add more water to combine)

Roll the ball of dough out on a floured board into a 10″ disk about 1/8 thick. Place into an 8 inch ceramic quiche pan. With a paring knife, cut the overhanging dough edge around the perimeter of the dish so there is a clean edge all the way around. Use the excess dough you cut off the edge to make the make the decorative scallop border. Use a 1 inch round scallop cutter, place the scallop rounds on the edge of the shell, over-lapping all the way around the outer edge.

Once you have finished the decorative edge, place the egg mixture into the shell. Add the reserved whole asparagus spears on top and place into the oven. Bake for 60 minutes at 350 degrees F.

Photographs by: Deborah Whitlaw Llewellyn

Prop and food styling by: Me

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