Sunday, December 29, 2013

Christmas Brunch Menu | Table Setting | Recipe for Baked Pecan French Toast with Berry Syrup

If you have been reading this blog for a while you know it is our family tradition to host brunch on Christmas Day.  I have some go-to recipes like a spinach and egg strata that I've made many times but occasionally I'll come across a new recipe that inspires me to mix it up a bit.  Such was the case this year.  As soon as I saw the December issue of Bon Appetit I new I'd be making their Baked Pecan French Toast with Blackberry Syrup on Christmas morning.  I'm not a huge fan of traditional french toast, but baked French toast is a whole different experience!  I made a few tweaks to the recipe and will share them below, based on my typical baked French toast recipe.  The best part about this menu is that I made everything, except the bacon, the day before and just warmed it up in the morning.  Stress-free!  The recipes were easy to pre-assemble and the combination of foods worked well, just the right balance of savory and sweet.

^^I kept the table simple and fresh.  I used a boxwood topiary that has been on my kitchen window sill all month and a couple ironstone pitchers with berries and tulips I picked up at Trader Joe's a couple days before Christmas.  Drop a couple pennies in the bottom of the vases will help keep the tulips heads from drooping. ^^

^^ burlap runner is from PB, striped runner is from HomeGoods^^

^^ I tied a few fresh greenery clippings in with the napkins (from PB) ^^

^^  I served the food buffet style.  The only items I had on the dining room table were the warmed up crepes and a side dish with sugar and lemons in between Andrew + Charlie's seats, so that they could be made and rolled up one at a time. ^^

baked pecan french toast with mixed berry syrup 
white cheddar + chive quiche
(any of Jenny's quiches would be perfect!)
prosciutto de parma
mixed fresh berries
crepes with lemon + sugar
 (Crepes were eaten by the kids! Made in advance, you can reheat in the microwave.)

Baked Pecan French Toast with Mixed Berry Syrup
(adapted from here)

1, 1 lb loaf of challah, sliced 1 inch thick. (Best to use 1 or 2 day old bread.  I like Trader Joe's challah.)
unsalted butter, room temperature
4 large eggs
4 large egg yolks
2 cups heavy cream
2 cup whole milk
1/4 cup sugar
1 tsp vanilla
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp kosher salt

Pecan Topping:
1/2 cup pecans
2 TBS chilled unsalted butter, cut in pieces
2 TBS brown sugar
1/4 tsp kosher salt

Butter a 13x9" baking dish.  Generously butter the tops of each slice of bread, then cut them in half (I found this made for an easier and prettier arrangement in the baking pan).  Cover the bottom of the dish in bread, then layer more slices on top, they will need to overlap to fit.  The dish will be FULL.

Whisk eggs, cream, milk, sugar, vanilla, cinnamon and salt in a medium bowl.  Pour over top of bread slices, pressing down to make sure the bread soaks up the egg mixture.  Sprinkle the top with 1-2 TBS of granulated sugar.  Cover and refrigerate overnight.

Pecan Topping:
Put all ingredients in a food processor and pulse until coarsely chopped.  Can be made a day in advance.  Cover and chill.

To Bake:
Remove dish from fridge and let it come to room temperature (about 45 minutes before it goes in the oven).  Preheat oven to 375.  Sprinkle pecan mixture over top, cover with foil and bake for 25-30 minutes.  Remove foil and bake until nicely puffed up and deeply brown.  Let cool slightly and serve with berry syrup.

Berry Syrup
1, 12 oz package of frozen berries, thawed (I used a strawberry, raspberry and blackberry mixture)
3 TBS fresh lemon juice
2 TBS sugar
1 cup pure maple syrup

Combine berries,  lemon juice and sugar in a medium saucepan and bring to boil over medium heat.  Reduce temp and let simmer for 10-15 minutes, stirring occasionally.  Remove from heat and stir in maple syrup.  Can also be made a day in advance.  Cover and chill.  Serve at room temperature.


Friday, December 27, 2013

Our Own Little Christmas Film

We had a nice, low key, Christmas this year.  Just our little family and time with my parents  (the boys really missed their cousins, so we may need to plan a little winter road trip!).  There was no big present hype this year because neither of my children were wishing for much.  We baked cinnamon rolls and cut-out cookies, we watched old movies, we kept our PJs on too late each day and sat in front of the fire for hours.  I was very intentional to do what I felt inspired to do rather than what I felt an obligation to do and it was very freeing.  I mentioned before that I was busier earlier in the month getting things in order for the photo shoot so for the rest of the month I focused my energy on the boys.

We tried to capture little bits and pieces of the last few days on film, a few seconds here, a few seconds there, and put them together in a film.  It's a bit of effort, not that much, but enough, however I'm so glad we did it. I love having these little family films to remember the way we are now (when we are at our best -- free of tears, melt downs, arguments between the boys, etc.) I will appreciate this even more in the years to come because as much as I think I'll remember all the little things, I know I won't.

^^wearing his new alpaca sweater that Nana found from an Australian esty seller and a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle shell from Mama found at Target. :)^^

^^I adore that Andrew picks out a gift for each of us and so willingly insists on spending his own money to buy them.  The diamond sword he bought for Charlie was Charlie's favorite gift.^^

I think Christmas, more than any other time of year heightens our expectations of what home, family and life should be and sometimes those expectations and pressures can get the better of us.   It's important to remember that real life isn't like a movie (even our little one on here that only shows happy moments and highlights.)  I think the best any of us can do is to be present when those perfect moments do occur, when our homes feels especially cozy, when we catch our children showing genuine love to one another, when we are all laughing as a family, when life feels really good and we feel content, because in between those moments there is a lot of other less perfect stuff.  I pray that no matter what is happening in your life that there were moments of peace and rejoicing this holiday season.  Enjoy this little snapshot of some of ours.

a very merry christmas 2013 (Enhanced) from tessa on Vimeo.

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Holiday & Crew | The Prettiest Stockings (ever!) | Stuffer Ideas For Her

My friend, Tiffany, started her own stocking company this year called Holiday & Crew.  Her goal is to create beautiful and unique stockings, reminiscent of Christmases in New England.  I've known about her dreams to start this business for a while, so to see it come to fruition was so very exciting.  I was in the market for new stocking (for a couple years now) and patiently held out till she launched her business because I knew anything else I bought would need to be replaced once I saw hers (I was so right).  They are timeless and special and I will treasure the four I have for many years to come.  I had a local embroiderer add our monograms and I swapped out the pretty satin ribbon with a beautiful velvet.  I have really been drawn to velvet this season.  The results are stunning, if I do say so.

I choose a dark brown thread to contrast with the light brown herringbone fabric.  It also goes so well with our living room fabrics.  Our family tradition is to hang the stockings on the mantle on Christmas Eve but these were waaaaay too pretty to keep tucked away for the whole month so I hung them along the banister that way we could enjoy them all month long, but we'll still move them to the mantle on Christmas Eve.

And since the perfect stockings deserve extra special stocking stuffers, I put together some ideas just in case your Santa waits till the very last minute to figure them out too. (wink.)  While it is too late to order online (how did Christmas sneak up so fast this year?), many of these ideas can be found in local shops too, or they may spark another idea along the same line.    As a little girl, opening my stocking was always my favorite part of Christmas morning because it was filled with little treats that weren't on my wish list and somehow that made it all the more special.  I still remember opening a sleeve of Bonnie Bell flavored lip glosses when I was in about 5th grade and thinking I'd just struck gold.

things that smell good | perfume, because you should never really buy this for yourself | hairbrush that should last a lifetime, even though I lost my MP brush in college | pretty packaged chocolates | personalized address stamps | personalized ornaments | stationary | jewels, but not the over priced kind

Sunday, December 15, 2013

How to Make Cute Packaging Labels | Step by Step Video Tutorial

^^these were made last week for my photoshoot guests!^^

Let me first preface this post by saying I have ZERO graphic design training or skills.  Zip, Zilch, Zero.  I know there is a vast blogging community that specializes in this sort of thing and I'm probably embarrassing myself with this post but I get so many questions about how to make cute labels that I thought I would share my method for all of us non-desgin savvy types that just want to create pretty, personalized packages.  I don't use any design software, just Pages for Mac (you can do a lot of the same things on Word).  I have never followed any tutorials, I'm more of a learn as you go kinda gal.  I have tried emailing step by step instructions to people before and it doesn't seem to be all that helpful, so I'm hoping a video might do the trick.  Let me know if you try.

Step 1: Find Inspiration.  It is so much easier to "copy" another label that you love than try to create your own from scratch.  I don't go for an exact duplicate, but rather something with the same feel.  Take note of how different fonts and illustrations are combined, how letters are spaced, how different sized fonts are used, etc.

^^ For example:  The feel of this inspiration label is homemade + rustic (my favorite combination, for the record.). They use two fonts that both look handwritten and a simple sprig graphic.^^

Step 2:  Search for fonts.  My favorite font website is  There is also a load of inspiration + links for free fonts via Pinterest.  Learn how to download and install a font on your computer.  Macs make this a super simple process.  Click and drag to your font folder and you are set.  Below is a list of the fonts I used in the video tutorial.  Here is a link to the graphics I used.

Step 3: Design! Play around with your text.  Watch my video below to see how I do it.  The more you do it, the easier it gets and the better your labels get too.  I typically print on kraft, white or off white cardstock.  Occasionally, I'll use adhesive backed sheets like I did here for class treats.

Here is the video.  That I filmed myself.  On my phone.  While typing. You may feel a little dizzy after watching. There are a few glitches (I may say "look for the round circle" at one point, yeah, brilliant tutorial). You get the idea.  It ain't pretty, but hopefully it's helpful!  Happy label making!

Label Making from tessa on Vimeo.

(sources for supplies in the first image: kraft boxes from Everyday Occasions, ribbon from Container Store)

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Midwest Living | Our Home | Christmas 2014

I'm dying to show all of you our home decked out for Christmas this year. It has never looked prettier or felt more cozy, there is fresh greenery everywhere and gorgeous white flowers + berries in every little pitcher, vase and container I own, but you are going to have to wait till next year.   For those that follow me on Instagram you might have seen that we just had our home photographed for Midwest Living magazine's 2014 holiday issue.  It was one of those rare, once in a lifetime experiences, that I still can't quite believe actually happened.  To us. In this home.

I will say that having a magazine come to your home might be the best motivator ever to finish up all sorts of little odds and end projects.  For the last few months I've been checking one item after another off the list in anticipation of their arrival.  I was a little nervous about the whole thing, this is very unfamiliar territory for me and as much as I wanted everything to be just right, there were a lot of unknowns and that can be a bit stressful.  I wasn't even sure that everyone and their equipment would fit in our small home! (they did. barely.)

^^one project was getting slips made for the red bergere chairs in our living room^^
^^another was adding a couple antique ladder back chairs for additional seating, when needed, to the dining room. I also had cute seat skirts made.^^

But the stars aligned the last few days and it was pretty darn amazing.  We had a hefty fresh snowfall the day before they arrived, enough to paint all the rooftops white and cover the branches and greenery full of powder.  The skies were bright blue and the sun shone every day. (though it was freezing!!)  MWL chose the best photgrapher, Helen Norman, to shoot the story.  I'm not just being politely complimentary, her work is to die for, her photos are magical.  No other words. Pure M-A-G-I-C.  I was floored looking at the shots on the monitor.  I've been a long time admirer having seen her work in other shelter mags, so to to have her photographing mine, well, that was just the bees knees.  My boys adored her too and wondered where she was today. I think they thought she moving in.   The best part about Helen though, is that she has every reason to have an ego and she has none.  As down to earth and genuine as they come.  I have a feeling she leaves every job friends with the people she just photographed.

I also worked with with two very talented, creative, and super kind women from MWL (Hi Tara!  Hi Geri!).  I'll be forever grateful that they saw something in our home that made them want to capture it at Christmas time.  I appreciate all they did to make it the prettiest it has ever been while fully respecting my style and letting me take the lead with the decorations (though they made everything so much better, just wait till you see what they did with the playroom!) and involving me in all the decision making.  I feel they made every effort to show our home the way we live in it and the way we celebrate this time of year.  For me, I will cherish that this moment in our lives was documented in such a special way.  Christmas is my favorite time of year, it is when I love our home most.  I'm looking forward to sharing it with others and as a midwestern girl, I'm especially honored that it will be in their magazine!  Heaven help me though, I can't stand to wait a whole year!!

I've been asked on Instagram, so I will go ahead and say it here too, Midwest Living has national distribution so if you live in the US you should be able to find it, it just might be easier if you are in the midwest.  Just in case you can't and want to be sure you see the issue, you can subscribe here.    

ps. it is so difficult to post my own images now that I've seen what our home can look like. just saying. they will have to do for now. boo.

Monday, December 9, 2013

lately | in phone pictures

And just like that it feels like winter...  We had our first real SNOWfall this weekend.. A beautiful Luminaria event in our village...  The flannel sheets and jammies are out of storage and being put to good use...  and we are in full Christmas preparation mode...  Such a wonderful time of year.  I'll be back later in the week with a proper post + some fun news that will explain my scarcity on the blog lately, stay tuned...

Monday, December 2, 2013

My Christmas Wish List

I'm pretty sure I've expressed how much I truly dislike making a wish list to give to someone, yet each year there are those couple people that I love very much (hello Mum + Jimmy!) that continue to request one and every year I hem and haw over it.  I don't mind making hypothetical wish lists on the blog just for fun but handing over a list to someone has always felt a little awkward to me.  I used to drive my mother-in-law crazy because I never gave her one, I just couldn't do it.  Now I completely understand why people ask for one, because they love me and want to buy something that will make me happy and I will enjoy.  I know because I ask the same of my boys (And my husband.  I have double standards, I know.)  For the record, Charlie has requested an Alpaca or an Alpaca sweater (in off-white, so he can be just a cuddly as a real Alpaca) and a paintball gun that doesn't really shoot paint balls but looks and sounds like one, only in a kid-like version (Santa can make anything, Mom!)  and Andrew has requested Lego sets that are launching on December 29th - perfect.

I happen to love giving and receiving surprise gifts (I'm the guest who never buys off the wedding registry!) and my most favorite gifts have usually been those I never even thought to wish for, but I know it is so difficult to find that perfect gift and to struggle through searching + shopping this time of year just isn't fun - for anyone. Soooo, begrudgingly, I made a list.  A list of lovely things that I would adore but probably not buy for myself because I honestly don't need them and they might feel a smidgen indulgent if I treated myself for no reason.  What a prelude, Tessa, get on with it!  Sorry, others must feel this way about list making, right?!! Without further adieu,  here's what's on "my list" this year, and probably most every other year because I tend to like the same things...

red tote/long lusted after book/start a new china collection to match my Mum's which I should have registered for when I got married but I chose another pattern and still regret it/blue and white pottery new or old, new is cheaper though/antique bread boards, sorry, no link here, have to scour antique stores/etsy/ebay but they gotta be old/pewter pitchers and creamers, I'd like to start a small collection (also like my Mum, I'm turning into my mother!!) but I would prefer antiques, again sorry, not so helpful, no link/monogrammed table linens, I love these but they don't make an F.  So, while I have a link it isn't all that helpful.  Tell me again how much I stink at list making.../ mandarin tote, cause I need (er, would like) a new bag but I don't need two, just giving options here, and I'm not such a fan of brand names and logos on my bags either (picky-picky) but the Michael Kors bag is a great size and style so maybe I could just cut off the dangling MK thingy.  Is that dreadful?

Happy shopping! 

Monday, November 25, 2013

Happy Thanksgiving

just a few inspiring images to put you in the mood for the coziest and warmest holiday of all.  enjoy the time with your families this week and may you have many reasons to be thankful!  i'm thankful for all of you that stop by here and encourage me to share little bits and pieces of my life with you!  

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Weekend Mornings in My Kitchen | Buttermilk + Brown Sugar Waffles with Fried Cinnamon Apples

It's 12:00 in the afternoon on Sunday.  I'm sitting in my PJs, it's raining buckets outside and I'm cranking out a couple blog posts that I had almost ready last week but needed to proof read the recipes. So here you go, back-to-back posts...  This recipe is a keeper, so pin it, print it, tuck it away somewhere because it is one that you'll go back to time and time again.  I know I do, pretty much weekly.  I got the idea to top them with apples last weekend since I had a big bowl full on my counter and they were divine. My Mum used to serve fried apples often with breakfast when I was little so this version is a bit nostalgic to me.

Buttermilk + Brown Sugar Waffles
(adapted from Martha Stewart)

1 stick of melted butter, cooled
2 cups shaken buttermilk
3 eggs
1 tsp vanilla
2 cups flour
1/4 cup brown sugar (sift if your is on the lumpy side)
1 tsp baking soda
1.5 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp kosher salt
1/2 tsp cinnamon

Combine buttermilk, butter, eggs and vanilla. (I do this in a 4 cup measuring cup to dirty one less bowl.) Combine four through cinnamon in a large bowl and slowly stir in buttermilk mixture till combined.  I cook 1/2 cup of batter on my highest waffle setting till it says it is cooked.  We like our waffles just a slight bit crispy.

Top with whatever fruit you like, butter, powdered sugar, and/or syrup.  In the summer I love it with sliced, ripe peaches or berries!

Fried Cinnamon Apple Topping
Peel and slice (about 1/4 inch thick) as many apples as you like.  I'd say about 1.5 medium sized apples per person but not so many that you can't form a single layer in your pan.  Melt 2-4 TBS butter in a skillet over medium heat.  Toss in apples and cook until just beginning to soften. Lower heat if they are browning too fast, add a little more butter if needed.  Sprinkle with 1 tsp cinnamon and a generous pinch or two of brown sugar for the last couple minutes of cooking to get them all caramelized.  

Halloween + Recipe | Homemade Patriotic Costume | 5 Spice Beer Chili

I'm a little behind with this post, hope it's still ok to to be talking Halloween even though I know you are all itching to hang boxwood wreaths, string white lights, force paperwhites, and start shopping for stocking stuffers.  Well, indulge me if you will, we had a bit of topsy turvy Halloween this year.

October 31st brought lots and lots of rain, so even though school costume parades and parties were in full swing, trick-or-treat was canceled.  Andrew had planned a return of the Haunted Trail this year and we had stayed up for 3 hours trying to convert our not-so-big garage into a Haunted House the night before Halloween just so it wouldn't be a total rained out bust.

Andrew's costume this year was a homemade one and quite possibly my very favorite ever.  He wanted to be a Revolutionary War Patriot as soon as we visited the Boston Tea Party museum last summer.  We had so much fun putting this costume together.  The shirt, vest, and collar came from a vintage clothing shop.  It took a lot of rummaging around in the shop to find what we needed.  I replaced the Western style buttons on the west with vintage brass eagle buttons to look more authentic.  I bought a $6 pair of pants from Wal-Mart, cut them under the knee and sewed in elastic to look like knickers.  The hat and musket came from a shop in Boston.

^^he left the musket at home for the school parade and waved a flag (with too many starts on it, I know) in school.  he's pictured above with a girl in his class that put her old granny costume together from the same vintage clothing store.  Andrew would like me to be very clear this is not his girlfriend! :)  I took a picture for the shop owner!^^

Trick-or-Treat was rescheduled for Sunday evening.  We spent the day finishing up decorations for the the Haunted Trail, adding strobe lights, scary music and doing a few run throughs to work out any glitches.  Charlie and I went trick-treating with friends for an hour and then came back to our house to help out with the haunted happenings... Thankfully, no nightmares were had that evening.  While I don't allow anything bloody or gory, once you add strobe lights to a plastic skeleton he looks pretty darn frightening!  My only regret is that it was too dark that evening to take pictures, so all I have are blurry ones of Charlie as Jango Fett from Star Wars.  Since it was November 3rd, we had gone through a time change and it was pretty much pitch black at 6:00 PM.

I didn't make a pot of chili on Halloween, but I had planned to.  Instead we grabbed Chipotle and we were still scrambling at the last minute to get everyone ready and out the door on time.  I did however, make chili the day after and it was just the perfect thing for the string of chilly nights we had that followed.   This recipe can easily be tweaked to your liking but I think the beer (you all know how I love a secret ingredient) is essential!  Enjoy!!

5 Spice Beer Chili
(source: My Mum, tweaked by me)
2.5 lbs ground chuck
1/2 lb ground sirloin
2 large onions finely chopped
1 garlic clove minced
olive oil
16 oz tomato sauce
12 oz tomato paste
1 tsp celery salt
1/2 tsp crushed red pepper
2 bay leaves
1 TBS chili powder
1 TBS sweet paprika
2 TBS dried basil
1 TBS kosher salt

2 cups (or more) beef broth
1 cup beer, I used Samuel Adams Octoberfest.

(optional) 30 oz can of hot chili beans  -- Sometimes I add the beans, sometimes I don't (like this time), I like them but the kids aren't huge fans.  This is one of the ingredients you can play around with and still get an excellent tasting chili!

Brown beef and onion together, add garlic for last couple minutes of cooking time.  Add all other ingredients, except beans and simmer for 1 hour uncovered.  If you want a thinner chili add more broth at this time.  Cover and simmer for another hour.  Remove lid and add beans if you choose and simmer till desired consistency.

Note: If short on time, just skip the second hour of cooking, chili will still taste amazing. The longer you are able to cook it, the better, but I don't always have 2 hours to simmer and no one seems to mind in the least.  I usually serve ours Cincinnati style, over spaghetti and topped with shredded cheese.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Our Home | Work Corner | Bemz Slipcovers | DIY Table Refinishing

As our children grow up, so do the spaces in our home.  We have a playroom on the first floor of our home that really wasn't getting that much quality play time anymore.  There were piles and baskets of toys that, when picked up, made it a rather enticing space, but within minutes of it being tidy, Charlie would come in like a hurricane and spread every little action figure, instrument, toy truck, etc. all over the floor.  I was fighting a losing battle.  So slowly the toys have been replaced by more books on the overrun shelves and the play kitchen and train table have been replaced by a work/project corner.  We always knew the room would eventually become a children's library/homework spot so this space will continue to evolve that way down that road.

^^For the desk, I stripped the paint off of a table that Jimmy found out for the trash in our neighborhood a couple years ago.  He picked it up thinking I could do something with it and use it for the boys.  It was painted a sickly yellow on top with dark, hunter green legs and underside.^^

I will be very honest and say that the hours that went into this DIY probably don't justify the result.  It was my first time (and maybe last?) stripping paint and it was a bit of a pain.  The table top was a breeze and went just like I expected.  I had hoped the bare wood underneath might have a nice patina or reclaimed wood look to it, but it just looked like light, boring, bare wood.  As for stripping the paint of the legs, I first tried the same stripper I used on the top and nothing came off.  I upgraded to a heavy duty chemical stripper and still barely anything.  I was starting to think the legs were colored using a green Sharpie!  I tried heavy grit sand paper and only then could I get down to the bare wood. It would have taken many, many, MANY hours to finish all the legs that way and given its intended purpose that hardly seemed worth it.   So, I painted the legs (Benjamin Moore Bennington Gray.  I used oil paint.  Sorry.  Still nothing really like it when it comes to painting wood, in my opinion. )

As for getting the top the color and look I wanted, I just started experimenting a bit.  I applied 2-3 coats of Minwax in Dark Walnut.  I brushed it on with a foam brush and almost immediately wiped it off with a soft cloth.  Then after a couple days, I used Briwax in Dark Brown to deepen the color and add some variation.  I wiped it on (generously), let it sit for 20 minutes or so then buffed it off using steel wool.  It was a great arm workout! :)  I didn't top with a poly coat because I wanted it to look a little more matte and I like the idea of the finish wearing off in places.

^^ Here are the products I used, minus the Dark Walnut Minwax which I threw out before I had a chance to take a photo.^^

^^Ikea chair + Bemz slipcover^^

I have long loved the smaller Chelsea Editions check and felt like these Bemz covers copied the look pretty darn closely.  Super impressed and happy with the quality and fit!!

^^Les Indienness pillow cover, in gray^^

I like looking down the little hallway adjacent to our kitchen and seeing this cozy corner.  I also love the green lamp (Ballard) among all the browns and grays in the room.  I like it so much that I've been using this spot to do bills, write weekly menu plans, and update my calendar.  Andrew hasn't once touched it for homework but I think eventually he will because it allows plenty of space to spread out his materials and it's close to me if he needs help.  Thanks for taking a peek.  And my apologies for the less than ideal DIY steps and slightly burry photos, I should have used my tripod, bad blogger.  DIY will never be my thing but I am happy with the results.  For now.