Wednesday, December 27, 2017

recipe | grain salad with arugula, pecans, blue cheese and apricot vinaigrette

I'm ready for a little holiday food detox, how about you? (at least until NYE...;))  I had these gorgeous pears left over from out Christmas place setting and used them to recreate an amazing salad I had a couple months ago at a local restaurant.  It's perfect for this time of year, hearty with the warm quinoa and complex enough with the blue cheese, pecans and spicy arugula.

Recipe | Grain Salad with Arugula, Blue Cheese, Pecans and Apricot Vinaigrette

Quinoa (cooked and still warm, if you make it ahead of time, just reheat it.  I used about 1/4-1/2 cup per person)
Dried Cranberries
Blue Cheese Crumbles
Pecans, chopped
Pears, thinly sliced

*you can use as much as you want for the above ingredients, completely up to your preference!

2 TBS white balsamic vinegar (white white or champagne vinegar would work well too)
1/3 cup olive oil
1/4 cup apricot preserves
salt and pepper

Whisk all these ingredients together and toss with salad

christmas 2017

It's hard for me to believe Christmas is over.  It went by even faster than normal this year. Isn't that just life though?  I know we all keep saying it.  We had a really lovely Christmas season, one that makes my heart full and so grateful.  We did all our favorite traditions and started some new ones too (Nantucket Christmas Stroll + wreath making!).  I blissfully has two healthy children for Christmas (not the case last year) and even though we didn't get the promised snow, the few flurries and chilly temps made it feel perfectly wintery!  Last year we started going to a new church and attending their beautiful Christmas Eve service for the first time was a highlight for me. The music brought me to tears.  
I didn't do a Christmas house tour like years past, but I posted little snippets on Instgram instead.  It's just so much easier!  But I love going back on this blog and looking at years past, so even though I've already shared some of these photos, I wanted to make them a little more permanent in a blog post.
The plans for the rest of the week include a fancy New Year's celebration at home, seeing a few new movies, some time spent playing board games and maybe a trip north to find some snow for sledding, if we can bear the frigid temps that is...

Friday, December 22, 2017

Christmas Cookies | Pistachio Glazed Sugar Cookies | New Recipes

The boys got out of school on Wednesday and we've (Charlie and I) been busy in the kitchen ever since.  Gingerbread house making and cookie baking!  On Thursday, Charlie and I spent about 6 hours making 4 different Christmas cookies!  I thought I would share what we made since we tried a couple new recipes that were excellent. A few cookies were packed up to share and many more have already been eaten by us.  Tomorrow I have my annual nutcracker day with Andrew when we hunt through antique stores to find an oldie to add to his collection.  I like having some one on one traditions with each of my children that we can look forward to each holiday season.
Here are the links and my notes on each cookie we made:
We tried a new recipe from Elizabeth and Butter and they were super delicious!  I did roll our dough thinner for a crispier cookie.  Some we decorated with sparkling sugar before baking and others we decorated with royal icing after baking.  They are just a bit spicier (not spicy, but more gingerbread-y) and crispier than my old gingerbread recipe, which is here.  We all enjoyed both recipes and but I love that this one is free of artificial ingredients.  If you want a more mellow and softer texture gingerbread I would use my old recipe, if you want a more traditional gingerbread I would use the new recipe.   My favorite royal icing recipe is here, which I used this time too.

^^ Topped with sparkling sugar before baking.  I know it looks like sea salt.  Haha^^

This was my favorite cookie that we made!  So different!  There is ground pistachio in the dough and crumbled on top.  The olive oil makes them especially light in texture and crispy.  These were less popular with my kids.  The dough is VERY soft and a bit sticky when rolling out so use lots of flour on the surface and rolling pin.  That smear of glaze is the perfect finishing touch!  

The most nostalgic Christmas cookie! I use the tried and true Betty Crocker recipe.  My mum always made these and so did Jimmy's. My kids have a tendency to eat the kisses off the top and leave the cookie.

This has been one of my favorite recipes for years.  Perfect with coffee!  They are the best chocolate biscotti I have ever eaten.  


Tuesday, December 19, 2017

Wreath Making Lunch with Friends | Gingerbread Cake

For the last several years I've wanted to host a group of friends for a wreath making party but never quite seemed to get my act together.  December is always such a busy month and our calendar seems to fill up so quickly.  About a week ago, I came across a wreath making luncheon blog post by Jenny's Cookies and was so inspired I decided to grab my calendar right away and see if there was anyway to pull something off before Christmas.  I saw a two hour window on Sunday, texted a few friends and next thing I knew we had a wreath making party in the works!  Yes, adorable invites, more people, better planning would have all been ideal, but there was something nice about a casual get together on somewhat short notice too. Next year, I have plans with another friend to host a much larger group of girls at a different venue and I'm already looking forward to it!  I considered this year a bit of a test run.  It was therapeutic to be creating something natural and beautiful with a group girlfriends. It was especially nice to step away from the hustle and bustle of these last 10 days before Christmas and just enjoy time together.

For lunch I kept things very simple and made my favorite apple and stilton harvest salad and added chick peas (recipe here) and for dessert, this stunner of a gingerbread cake (recipe here, see my modifications below).  One of my friends brought a delicious pomegranate and lime holiday cocktail for us to share. We ate at the dining room table before making wreaths.  Originally, I had planned to have lunch inside and then make the wreaths outside but the weather was chilly and rain was in the forecast so I kept everything inside.  It was cozy that way too with the fire on and Christmas music playing.

As for supplies, I gathered tons of free frasier fir clippings from the corner tree lot and cut everything into sprigs that were the size needed for wreath making.  I purchased 20" wire wreath forms and 20 gauge, green, paddle wire from Amazon.  I gathered 4 other types of greens, including a variegated, boxwood looking green, a type of holly with red berries, juniper, and cedar.  I purchased my greens through a wholesaler.  If you host a party like this and can do the same it will save lots of money or find a florist friend to do it for you.  You need a ton of greens to make pretty wreaths!  One of my friends had experience with wreath making and was able to lend us a hand.  I also found this video suggested by an instagram friend (thanks, Nikki!) to be very helpful too.  There is a little bit of technique involved, but it's not difficult and it doesn't need to be perfect!  That's always the beauty of something homemade!

Recipe for Gingerbread Cake can be found here.

These are my notes after making it the first time...

1. Finding vanilla boxed cake mix was kind of a nightmare.  I went to 4 different places before I found it (Kroger and Walmart do not carry it around here.)  Target has it online and in store.

2. This recipe is HUGE!  Tons of cake mix, molasses, buttermilk and 12 eggs!  Unless you have an industrial sized stand mixer don't even try to make it work.  I realized this the hard way.  Find the BIGGEST bowl you can and use a hand held electric mixer!!  You will thank me for this. ;)

3. Sift the cake mix before mixing in the other ingredients.

4. Watch the cooking time.  Mine was finished 15-20 minutes before the recommended minimum cook time.

5. Icing - I had butter at room temp and cream cheese right out of fridge.  When icing the layers put at least a cup of icing in-between.  1/2 cup will not give you enough and the icing makes the cake!  It was my favorite part.

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Nantucket Christmas Stroll | First Timer Tips

If you follow me on instagram you very likely saw (30+ posts!!) that I went to the annual Nantucket Christmas Stroll with a couple girlfriends.  The Stroll is held the first weekend of December every year.  I have dreamed of going for the last 5 years and I'm so grateful we finally made it happen. It lived up to every expectation I had, making it the perfect girls trip to kick of the Christmas season!

I will do my best to answer some of the questions you all have had as well as give you a glimpse of how we spent our time and what we would do differently next time.  Here we go...

Where did we stay?
We rented a home in town, pictured left.  Yes, it was big!  We booked a home last summer.  VRBO and Airbnb are your best bets if you want to go this route.  There are lots of amazing hotels in town too, especially if you are traveling as a couple.  We were only there to sleep, with a little morning and evening lounging around so having a house was nice but not essential, it will save you a little money over a hotel though.  You will want a place in walking distance of the shops since you don't want to pay to bring a car over on the ferry and the buses no longer run in winter.  Cabs are also available, of course.

A lot of people asked if I preferred staying in town over staying in Sconset.  You can't really compare the two because staying in Sconset in the summer is a completely difference experience.  If just going for the Stroll, town is the way to go!  See my other Nantucket posts to read all about why we love Sconset so much in the summer.

How did we get to Nantucket from Cincinnati?
Getting to Nantucket isn't easy but it's always worth it.  We chose to fly into Boston on an early flight.  We arrived before 9:00 AM then we rented a car and drove to the Cape.  We parked in the long term ferry parking and took the ferry.  We learned the hard way that ferry tickets on the high speed boat sell out more than a month in advance.  So we took the slow ferry there and fast back.  Some other options that we will explore next time are taking the bus from Logan to Hyannis or booking two flights, one to Boston and then a Cape Air flight to Nantucket.  There are no direct flights from Cincinnati and those with a connection are unreliable and very expensive.  I also think we might come in on a Thursday and leave late Sunday next time.  

What were some fun things to do that are unique to the Stroll?
In typical Nantucket fashion, you have to do a bit of discovery work to find all that the island has to offer.  I found ideas here and here to be really helpful. We took an evening home tour of some gorgeous old homes on Orange Street on Friday when we arrived, which was such a highlight for all of us.  This tour wasn't mentioned on the Stroll Events website and we noticed that many of the people on the tour were local residents.  We pre-purchased tickets online and picked them up at the Whaling Museum when we arrived.  
There was an indoor craft show at the Preservation Institute on Centre Street that was easy to miss unless you knew it was there.  I'm so glad we found it because my favorite artist had a booth and I was able to pick up a couple new pieces for our home.
I did the early morning guided walking tour of the mansions of Cliff and Brant Point. My friends opted to sleep in, so I re-created the walk for them the next day which was even more fun.   
There are so many other unique activities from book signings to wreath making at Bartlett Farm to eating fresh shucked oysters on the warf to special brunches and champagne tastings, that you just have to do a little research and see what floats your boat and know that you can't do it all.
The main attractions are shopping and eating and drinking!  Oh and there is a lot of pomp and circumstance over the arrival of Santa on the boat and everyone gets very festive with their attire, including the dogs.  Think light up necklaces and crazy hats.  

Where to eat?
Here are the places that were recommended to us, some we ate at, others we'll save for next time...
Ventuno, Italian, make reservation far in advance.  No walk-ins.
Straight Warf, no reservations, long wait, seafood
Greydon House, the prettiest restaurant on Nantucket in my opinion, but very pricey.  We made reservations, then found out they switched to a prix fixe menu but at $150 a person, it was more than we wanted to spend for a girls night out. Better for a date night! We did have drinks in the cozy bar though and that was perfect.
Pi Pizzeria, you'll need to take a cab, it's super cozy and delicious for a casual dinner.
Brotherhood of Thieves - pub food, no reservation needed
Queequeg's -  Came highly recommended from a local. Was closed the day we wanted to eat there but sounds really good!
Wicked Island Bakery - worth the walk, go early in the morning.  It's still my favorite bakery on the island.  
The Hub - Their breakfast croissants are amazing! 

^^ The most iconic tree for the Stroll, you'll find it hidden in the water right behind the movie theater! ^^

We lingered in unique stores and chatted with owners and artists, we took evening walks along cobblestone streets among Christmas lights, and we ate most of our meals next to roaring fires in charming old buildings.  I loved the quiet mornings walking through town and on the beach and I loved the happy holiday bustle in the stores during the day. It was such a joy to be able to see Nantucket through my friend's eyes and watch them fall in love with my favorite place!  We brought home wonderful treasures and lots of happy memories.  And we all vowed to make this a new holiday tradition!  I can't wait till next year!!  Thanks for letting me share it all with you!