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!