With the holidays over and Spring still a few months away, I've been looking for new ways to boost the joy factor while getting through this stretch of long cold days. Thought I would share a few I've found, just in case you were in need of a pick-me-up too.
Home Cooking. I bought the new Barefoot Contessa cookbook "Foolproof" while I was in wine country for my birthday weekend in November and have already made a few things.
As with her other books, the recipes are easy to follow, well tested and delicious.
This is the Chicken with Wild Mushrooms. I made potatoes for along side and a green salad with roasted beets. For the potatoes, I boiled Yukon Gold's (any new potatoes will do), drained them and then smashed them with the bottom of a small pot, then fried them quickly (hot pan) in a little olive oil to crisp on the outside. Sprinkled with coarse salt at the end. A glass of wine – Viognier in this case – was just perfect.
Reading. I never seem to have enough time to catch up on current events. When a friend (a super smart, well read friend, I might add) highly recommended "The Week" I immediately subscribed. Each issue contains a summary of everything important that has happened that week. It's well written and concise – concise being the opperative word. I take it in my purse for those times I find myself waiting – grocery line, soccer practice, before an appointment, etc.
Music. Music is so evocotive. We have access to anything our hearts desire at any given moment, so a mental escape with some good music is always possible. In my car I listen to Sirius XM, at work we listen to Pandora and when I excercise I listen to my ipod. My playlists are getting old, so I've been finding new artists to mix in. Lately I'm gravitating to more mellow, emotionally charged songs for some reason… I discovered Mumford & Sons recently and fell in love with their their music. My favorite song, for your listening pleasure, below.
Shoes. I'm a girl, what can I say. My daughter Lily and I went to Santa Monica for the weekend to celebrate her 14th birthday right after Christmas. It was a shopping, star stalking, glitter manicure, power packed weekend. Other than a slight fainting spell at my 4th Abercrombie in 24 hours, a great time was had. One of the highlights (for me!) was going to the Ralph Lauren store. My favorite. We got there just as they were marking these down. I'm 5'10" in them! All I need now is the right occasion and of course, the perfect dress…
Click here for your own pair. Note: they are an additional 30% off the listed price!
The first cookie exchange party I attended was when my son (now 16) was in Kindergarten. This group of ladies took their cookies seriously! If delicious cookies presented Martha-style was not enough, the hostess decked out her castle-like house in over the top holiday decor creating a winter wonderland so beautiful it would make Ebeneezer Scrooge melt. Everyone brought a designated amount of cookies, allowing each guest to take home a equal amounts of everyone's contribution. The math involved must have been mind boggling! The best part of course, was coming home with a platter of the most divine holiday cookies.
Moving from Seattle means I sadly no longer get to attend this event (actually no one does, the hostess moved to Florida…), but I got to thinking about it the other day and decided to ask a couple of my best baker girlfriends to contribute their favorite cookies to a virtual cookie party!
The first cookie on the table is from my friend Teri. She is an extraordinary baker and I beg her constantly to grace the world with her talents and open a bakery!
Sugar Cookies topped with Frosting and Crushed Peppermint
If you are interested in the recipe, please email me and I will get it from Teri!
The table from a cookie party that Teri attended:
Next up is a cookie from my friend Vanessa who lives in Seattle and works for AllRecipes.com. If you are not familiar with this website – you will LOVE it. One of my favorite things about it is that readers can share their photos of the recipes they've tried.
Raspberry and Almond Shortbread Thumbprints
I love anything with almond flavor, so I can't wait to try these! For the recipe and the page with the readers photos of their version of the above cookie, click here.
I also wanted to share a program AllRecipes has organized called Cookies Across America:
'Join Allrecipes this December to “bake a difference.”Cookie lovers unite! Whether it’s baking and sharing cookies with the needy or donating cookie ingredients to a food bank, you can make a difference in your community this Christmas.
On December 10, 2011, join Allrecipes, Taste of Home magazine, and Nestlé®, as we spread a little Christmas cookie cheer across America. Here are a few ways to get involved.
Host a Cookie Exchange
If you love baking cookies and gathering with friends and family, this is the event for you. Take the pledge and join us, December 10, 2011, or set your own date during December, and have everyone bring a few dozen of their favorite holiday cookies. Make it a decorating party! Add icing and festive touches.
Then wrap up your cookies for donation and give them to a local food pantry, emergency shelter, senior center, lunch program, or other community agency. Be sure to check first they accept food donations, and ask when they would like delivery.
Organize a Food Drive
Host a food drive that focuses on baking ingredients, then donate items to your local food bank. Open up the food drive to friends, family, and coworkers, along with school, church, and other groups.
Ingredients Most in Need:
Where to Donate?
Food pantries, family shelters, senior centers
The National Coalition Against Domestic Violence
The Ronald McDonald House
My contribution is a simple one, but sooo good.
Here's the recipe:
2 c. all purpose flour
1 1/4 t. coarse salt
1 c. (2 sticks) unsalted, room temp butter
3/4 c. confectioner's sugar
1. Sift flour + salt into a bowl. Put butter into electric mixer w/ the paddle attachment/ Mix on med-high speed until fluffy (about 3-5 mins) scrapping the bowl occasionally. Gradually add sugar, beat until pale and fluffy (about 2 mins). Add flour mixture all at once; mix until just combined.
2. Preheat oven to 300 degrees.
3. Using plastic wrap, press dough into a buttered 10-inch fluted tart pan w/ a removeable bottom. With plastic wrap on dough, refrigerate 20 mins. Remove plastic wrap. Cut a round from center using a 2 1/4" cookie cutter; discard. Put cutter back in center. Cut dough into 8 wedges (I did 16) w/ a paring knife. Using a wooden skewer; prick all over at 1/4 inch intervals.
4. Bake until golden brown and firm in center; about 1 hour. Transfer to wire rack. Recut shortbread into wedges; let cool completely in pan.
This recipe is from my all-time favorite cookie cookbook – 'Martha Stewart's Cookies'.
I love this book for two reasons:
1. In the table of contents there is a photo of every single cookie in the book.
2. They are organized in chapters based on cookie texture; ie, crumbly and sandy (shortbread above), rich and dense, and crisp and crunchy, just to name a few.
I hope you enjoy the cookies, and if you care to share in the recipe swap, email me a photo and recipe of your creation and I'll post it.
One of the best things about a vacation is all the time you get to spend reading. It's always nice when the reading material that you've given up precious space in your carry-on to take is exceptional. Such was the case on our recent vacation to Cabo.
Has anyone read "Homer & Langley" by E.L. Doctrow? It's a vividly detailed story about two brothers born at the turn of the century in New York City. The book's third character is the 5th Avenue mansion they live in and how it (and they) goes from the the epitome of aristocratic wealth and prestige to a dilapidated and derelict condition. The odd cast of characters that come and go from this house is what keeps it upbeat and even occasionally funny.
I also adored "Little Bee" by Chris Cleave. If you enjoy books with strong women protagonists, this book is for you. The back cover requests that details about the plot not be shared… So I'll honor that, but will give you just a brief snippet to decide if it's of interest. Two disparate women find themselves in a horrifying and life altering situation together and what happens to each afterwards.
The magazines were great too if they're still on the news stand you should pick them up. I keep thinking about the Vera Wang article in Harper's Bazaar. She is such an inspiration and at 61(!) she looks fantastic! Heard her interviewed on CNN on Friday after the Royal Wedding to weigh in on the wedding dress. Really interesting and insightful. She said Kate was making a statement that she is more about elegance than being fashion forward. Wasn't she just stunning? I am rambling now…
The space we call home is a reflection of who we are. Each of us deserves to live in an environment that nurtures and provides comfort and peace. Creating a home and a life you love starts with surrounding yourself with things and people that make you happy. It’s not about fancy things or being perfect, it’s about appreciating the beauty that is accessible to us all. This blog is my journal for celebrating the all the beautiful things that inspire me. I hope you will visit often and will be inspired too!