Saturday, December 27, 2014

Our Christmas in Photos

Christmas 2014 was a good one for our family and hopefully for yours as well!  We narrowly escaped the flu with Andrew (he was better by Tuesday), spent lots of time with both sides of the family (though I missed my brother, SIL and nephews), and celebrated all the beauty and magic of the holiday in warm and cozy homes surrounded by the people we love most.  There was lots of candle light and Christmas music and joyful faces.  I'm so grateful for the memories we made and that a few were captured on film.  As is our tradition, Christmas Eve dinner is spent at my parent's house and Christmas Day brunch is hosted by us.  We went to Jimmy's side of the family for dinner on Christmas day. Thankfully we only live about 40 minutes away from our extended family so it is manageable without feeling like we are spending all our time in the car. Here is a little peek...

^^ Fresh Juniper smells INCREDIBLE!  I dried lots of orange slices this year in an attempt to find the best technique.  What worked best for me was slicing oranges into 1/4 inch slices, placing on a rack over a baking sheet in a 170 degree oven, set on convection bake for 3-4 hours.  I let them sit at room temperature for an additional 2 days and then sprayed with a clear top coat to preserve and set their color.  It didn't make them shiny or alter the look. ^^

^^ The plan was to open "just one" and save the rest till after brunch.  That lasted all of 5 minutes. :) ^^

^^ The chandelier was decorated on Christmas eve with greenery from our yard.   The kraft stars are from Michaels^^

^^ Paddington, Baymax, new slippers and a WiiU for C^^

^^ Christmas Eve at my parent's, my Dad + Emma^^

^^ We always have Christmas crackers on Christmas Eve!^^

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Snippets of Christmas in Our Home

Well, I'm not sure why, but Christmas has felt a little hurried for me this year.  December is a month that I like to savor and I usually do my best not to get carried away in all the hustle and bustle.  This year I had to remind myself to slow down because Christmas was starting to feel like a checklist rather than a magical and peaceful month spent preparing for a celebration.  To be fair, my boys have been sick a couple times (Andrew seems to have the flu now) and Jimmy was out of town for 8 days, which set me back time wise.  I also wanted a little break after hosting Thanksgiving before I jumped into the next holiday.  Despite feeling a bit more rushed than I wanted to be, the last three weeks have also been filled with wonderful family memories and traditions, both new and old.  More than anything else, whether I'm decorating our home for the holidays or baking cookies or snuggling my boys while we watch Christmas movies and read Christmas stories, I do it all in the hope of creating a magical Christmas for them.  Here are a few snippets from the last couple weeks...

^^At the Holiday Dazzle downtown Cincinnati.  It was our first year attending and the boys loved it. We had dinner and drinks over looking Fountain Square where we saw Santa repel down a building and watched a fun firework display.  The boys liked meeting Mrs. Claus for story time afterwards and I liked hearing all the carolers on the square.  Every time I've put on my apron since, Charlie has reminded me I look like Mrs. Claus. Haha.^^

^^ Charlie picked out the tree from the Boy Scout tree lot this year.  The boys walked the tree home, too strong for pulling it in a wagon now. ^^

^^ I made the garland on the mantle out of clippings from our yard.  The greens were fresh when I clipped them. I soaked them in water for 24 hours, and misted them twice a day.  They stayed fresh looking for about 9 days and have since been replaced with artificial greens.  I know some people like the look of dried greens but saddly, I'm not one of them.  Once they look dry, they gotta go.  Next year I will leave the greens outside until one week before Christmas and then I'll bring them in. ^^

I hope the hustle and bustle is behind all of you now too and you can just enjoy time with the friends and family before the magic of the season comes to an end. Merry Christmas!!  xx

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Christmas in Our Kitchen | Talk of the House Blog Tour

Happy Friday everyone!  And welcome, Talk of the House readers!  I was very flattered when Kelly asked me to participate in her Christmas in the Kitchen blog tour!  Kelly's home always looks so incredibly put together and cozy, especially at Christmas! Even better than her decor though, is her kind spirit and genuine heart.  It is a pleasure to be a part of her first blog tour.

As for my kitchen... I like to keep the Christmas decorations to a minimum.  I have a couple rules that I abide by.  The first is to keep it fresh!  I don't mind using a little faux greenery here and there in other parts of the house, but in the kitchen I want to be surrounded by fresh and real decor (greens, berries, citrus fruit).  And yes, this means things die and need to be replaced, but I always pick up a bunch of flowers when I'm at the grocery store, I just make sure they feel more Christmas-like in December.  I also really like the food to take center stage.  I bake a lot this month, both for my family and for others and I like to see a plate of cut-out cookies cooling on the counter or let the smell of ginger and cinnamon fill the kitchen or see a bundle of kraft boxes tied with twine waiting to be gifted to friends and neighbors.  This feels like Christmas to me.  I try to keep the counters free of clutter and knick knacks too.  Since I have such a small kitchen, too much non-essential stuff tends to zap me of inspiration and energy.

^^ Here was our kitchen last Christmas when photographed for Midwest Living, read more here.^^

^^ The open shelves this year.  The only Christmas addition is fresh greens and berries in a couple of the ironstone jars.  Oh, and the bottle brush trees courtesy of Charlie, who said I needed more decorations. :)  He doesn't quite get my less is more aesthetic in the kitchen. Haha. ^^ 

^^ A bowl of clementines and a swag of greenery clipped from the yard is all that is needed. ^^

 ^^ Precious art made by little hands is my favorite kind of decoration. ^^

^^ Can you tell some of these photos were taken on a very dark and overcast day, and others, like this one, were shot in the bright, chilly light of morning^^

Kelly also asked me to share a holiday recipe.  I have so many sweets on this blog that I love to make, but I decided instead I would share an idea for easy holiday entertaining.  Who doesn't love a beautiful cheese board?!  I know there are many inspiration images out there and some how-tos, but I still have friends that tell me theirs look like a disaster when they try to assemble them.  So, I'm going to try break down my method because so many of us want to entertain over the holidays but the thought of pulling something together seems rather daunting.  A cheese board is fast to assemble, always a hit, and makes an impromptu get together so much more likely to happen.  Say a couple hours before school pick up with a few girl friends, or an after shopping, late afternoon, let's have wine and cheese for dinner, sort of affair, or add some bubbly to the mix and lots of candles and bam, you have a cocktail party!    

Step 1: Choose a Wooden Serving Board
You can go big, like this antique bread board, leaving the items more sparsely arranged, or choose a smaller cutting board and have it over flowing and bountiful - both are wonderful.

Step 2: Cheese Selection
Here's my one piece of advice, most people, at least those I'm related to and friends with, aren't cheese snobs, they like to try a little something new but it helps to include some flavors everyone knows and loves.  People like to work their way up to the stinky cheeses. :)  I always have a triple cream brie and a sharp English cheddar.  This time I also had a Gouda, Parmigiano Reggiano, and Cambozola (way more approachable than a Stilton).  I like to point the centers of the cheese wedges to the center of the board.  I typically start slicing one or two of the cheeses, but forgot this time until I put away the camera, again it encourages people to start nibbling, sometimes being the first to take a stab at a wedge of cheese is a little intimidating.

Step 3: Add Little Dishes of Yummy Things
I always have fig spread and honey because they pretty much taste good with every single cheese.  I like to include different sized ramekins and little silver bowls to add some interest.  I have Marcona almonds in the silver bowl.  Adding height with the wine bottles and breadsticks creates a pretty composition. I don't always have space on the board for the wine bottles, but I did this time.  

Step 4: Salty Meats (optional)
I like them, so they usually get added.  The best cheese boards offer a mix of textures and flavors, salty and sweet options and pairings.  I put the prosciutto next to the breadsticks since it tastes great wrapped around one. I also had a dry Italian salami.

 Step 5: Crackers and Fruit
Again, mix sizes and textures.  I had a mix of sweet oatcakes, sesame crackers, and pesto Parmesan crisps.  For the fruit, I added dried figs and dried cranberries and fresh clementines.  The clementines don't pair well with the cheese but they are perfect for dessert, when you want to freshen your palette, plus they look great at Christmas!

 Step 6: Add Greenery
Adding a little fresh greenery makes it feel more special occasion worthy!  If you are adding large leaves, then I would actually put those down first and the cheeses on top, but in this case they are just a pretty decoration on the side, so it is easiest to add them last. And that's it.  In all, maybe 15 minutes to set up and that was with taking pictures along the way!

Thanks again, Kelly!!
Be sure to stop by the other homes on the tour as well - some of my very favorite bloggers!