Monday, December 17, 2018

Christmas Cookies Using Wood Cookie Molds | Recipe for Speculaas

Merry, almost, Christmas!  I hope that this month isn't completely crazy for you.  Each year I seem to put up less decorations, do less baking, simplify my shopping, and yet somehow it remains a busy time of year.  I hope to share a little Christmas house tour later in the week.  I still need to take pictures, so fingers crossed I don't get too distracted with anything else.

I never want the preparations of Christmas to feel like a long to-do list.  My goal is to take joy in the process and to be led by my heart. I try to create a warm and inviting place to celebrate and make those around me feel special and appreciated. Some years that means a couple planters full of fresh greens and a batch of sugar cookies, other years I go all out and every ornament is hung on the tree and each room has little seasonal touches.  It is difficult to articulate, but you should only do what delights and inspires you.  I hear so many people apologizing for not having it all together, for being behind on shopping, for not having their home all decked out, for running around and resenting it.  Social media adds a whole layer of comparison and expectations because you see glimpses into other peoples lives your normally wouldn't and it just adds to the pressure. My kids don't have a clue what I choose to put out each year or if I use old wrapping paper or buy less, bake less, etc, but I'm certain they remember how much I love this time of year and how excited certain traditions make me.  That's really all it is about.  I say all this in preparation of sharing a new cookie recipe.  One that is a little time consuming, though not hard, and one that yields a beautiful homemade package to share.  I do this because it makes me happy.  An afternoon spent in the kitchen, creating something pretty and delicious, with Christmas music playing, is like a gift for me.  If that's not your jam, then embrace that too, rather than let it bring you down.  :)

One of the things that keeps the Christmas prep fun is trying new things, whether when decorating my home or baking in my kitchen.  Some years I'm more ambitious than others.  This past fall I was knee deep in old Martha Stewart Living Magazines from the 1990s (thank to Jenny and Maria) and I kept seeing these beautiful wooden cookie molds.  I tracked down the source and they still had the same ones used back in her magazine some 20+ years ago.  I ordered a few of my favorites and looked forward to trying her recipe for Speculaas cookies in December.  (They can also be used to make Springerle cookies - something I have yet to try).  For a first time attempt, I was so pleased with the results.  The molds worked perfectly and the cookies taste wonderful!  Most were boxed up for teachers, because they are too pretty not to share!  They are a traditional Dutch cookie, so being  Flemish I have happy memories of eating them when visiting my Nana in Belgium (though she didn't make them herself).  I believe the Flemish spelling is Speculoos though (Mum, correct me if I'm wrong...)

Here is the recipe, along with my notes.  See the bottom of the post for a link to the cookie molds. 

RECIPE | Speculaas Cookies (adapted from Martha Stewart)

  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda 

  • 1. Whisk together flour, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, cardamom, white pepper, and cloves in a large bowl. 

  • 2. Cream butter and brown sugar until light and fluffy. Beat in half the flour mixture. Beat in water, then remaining flour mixture. Shape into 3 disks. Pat each to a 1-inch thickness, wrap in plastic, and refrigerate for 1 hour. 

  • 3. Dust surface of the mold lightly with confectioners' sugar. Roll out dough to a 3/8-inch thickness (deeper molds will need thicker dough). I rolled the dough out on a parchment sheet so as not to add ore flour, based in review of the recipe saying the dough was crumby.  I very lightly dusted my rolling pin with flour before rolling. Press mold firmly into dough.  I pressed down about 10 times with both hands.  Then cut around the mold with a sharp knife. Gently coax dough out of mold with fingertips and onto a baking sheet lined with parchment. Repeat, spacing cookies 1 inch apart, and placing same-size cookies on same sheet. Freeze until firm, about 1 hour. 

  • 4. Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Place 1 sheet of cookies in oven, and immediately reduce temperature to 250. Bake, 1 sheet at a time, until cookies are set and just beginning to turn light gold around edges, 50-55 minutes. Let cool on sheets on wire racks.

    ^Would also make a beautiful gift to include the mold with the cookies.  
    Great for a baker or even a non-baker, since they can be hung as ornaments!^


Wednesday, October 10, 2018

Autumn Weekend in the Hamptons | Our 20th Anniversary

Jimmy and I celebrated our 20th wedding anniversary last May.  We knew we wanted to take a trip to mark this milestone anniversary and we debated all sorts of places but settled on a fall getaway to the Hamptons.  It was the perfect long weekend and probably my favorite trip we've taken as a couple since we've had children.  It couldn't have come at a better time too since Jimmy has been traveling a lot for work and things have just felt extra busy lately.  Having the chance to slow down and just enjoy each other for 5 days was the best gift.  We are so grateful my parents could watch our kids and Quincy (who was not on his best behavior!).

This was our first trip to the East End and it lived up to all my expectations. I've wanted to go since the first time I heard Ina Garten mention the Hamptons.  Thankfully we also received tons of recommendations on what to see and where to eat and where to shop so that it didn't take us long to feel at home.  (thanks especially to friends, Jenny and Susan) Here are some of the highlights of our trip.

The Hamptons are comprised of a series of villages on the eastern end of Long Island.  The architecture of the homes is distinctly New England and some of the towns feel more like Connecticut than New York - with wide tree lined streets, village greens, white churches and old cemeteries dotting the landscape.  Interestingly, the East End was at one time part of Connecticut in the1600s and was developed by the early English settlers, hence giving it that New England feel you don't necessarily expect to find in New York.   Of all the towns we visited, East Hampton is the most New England-like to me.  

^Ina Garten's barn where she films her show^

^East Hampton - view outside our room^

^morning walks past Ina's house (around the corner from our inn) and Martha's (just down the street, closer to the water) on our way to the beach.  If you ask Ina who?  Martha who? then I don't think we can be friends anymore. haha^

We arrived late Friday afternoon and there was a distinct autumn chill in the air (thank goodness!) and a golden sunset to match, making first impressions extra magical. We flew from Cincinnati to Islip, with a connection through Philly.  After checking in we walked around town a bit before stopping at Sam's for pizza.  A small, corner, window booth was the perfect spot to plot out the next few days.

We stayed in East Hampton at the 1770 House.  It's the perfect location for walking anywhere in East Hampton.  We received exceptional hospitality and were so well cared for as guests. We would highly recommend it to anyone considering a visit.  Tell the inn keeper, Randey, that I sent you - she is AMAZING! :) Even if not staying as a guest at the inn, it's a must for dinner.  (Make a reservation though!) There is a romantic courtyard in the back if the weather is warm enough and a cozy tavern in the basement that used to be a speakeasy during the prohibition that makes for a super cozy spot for dinner, which is where we ate on Sunday night.  

  Each morning started with a long walk to the beach, taking different routes to get there.  One street prettier than the next.  We passed Ina's house every day because she was so close to our inn.  I saw her twice and Jimmy saw her three times.  She was in her own garden and even though she would be a few feet away, I just couldn't call out and disturb her.  My visions of bumping into her at one of her favorite spots or casually walking down the street sadly didn't happen.  

After our walks we'd come back to the cozy main dining room at the inn for an incredible breakfast with the BEST coffee.  We were so spoiled, making today's breakfast of a protein bar a sad state of affairs!



On Saturday and Sunday we explored all the small town: East Hampton, Sag Harbor, Southampton, Amagansett, Bridgehampton, and Sagaponack and drove through a few others. We took back roads and detours to see pretty homes every chance we got. Thanks again to Susan for giving me the insider routes!!  My favorite part about the Hamptons is the rural feeling of being both at the sea and in the country.  You can't drive from one town to the next without seeing multiple farm stands, orchards, wineries and windmills at every turn.  There are more windmills in the east end of Long Island than anywhere else in the US! 

 We had some awesome lunches.  On Saturday it was beautiful and sunny so we stopped at the Hampton Chutney Company in Amagansett for Dosas and ate them in the little courtyard outside. Seriously good Indian food. I'm still craving it! One of my favorite meals.  Another great spot was Pierre's in Bridgehampton where we went on Sunday.  Authentic French bistro style food and again it was nice enough to eat outside.
^Sag Harbor^

My favorite town to shop was Sag Harbor, which reminds me so much of a town you'd find in Michigan but with homes you'd find in New England.  We walked the whole historic district and all the little tucked away streets filled with charming cottages.  My camera was busy! The prettiest store is Bloom.  The prices are outrageous, but it's so beautifully curated and styled, it would be a miss not to see. Jimmy will be upset if I fail to mention this, so here it is... we bumped into Neil Patrick Harris and his husband and children in the bookstore.  We ended up chatting for a while, both were very gracious and friendly. I don't get all geeked out over celebrities like Jimmy does (unless that had been Ina in the bookstore.  Why couldn't it have been Ina!?!?), but it's always fun to meet someone very famous, especially when they turn out to be decent people too.

^ Sag Harbor^

^ Sag Harbor^

 ^ Sag Harbor^

My second favorite town to shop was Southampton where we caught the most spectacular sunset on the beach!  There is a large One King's Lane store there too.  The road of mansions leading to the beach was something else.  There is a lot of wealth all over the Hamptons yet somehow it doesn't feel elitist and pretentious.  Probably because it covers such a large area and truly, homes range from very modest to outrageous (we saw construction on a 67 bedroom home in Southampton). 



Our last day was the chilliest and overcast, so we bundled up and drove out to Montauk to hike.  We stopped in Amagansett for Jack's Coffee (even after having coffee with breakfast at the inn!) because the Hamptons seem to have the market cornered on excellent coffee! We drove on route 27 till it split into the Old Montauk Highway where we veered off.  Montauk is completely different than the rest of the Hamptons.  It probably comes alive in the summer with it's distinctly surfer town vibe.  There are lots of  t-shirt shops and little diners. It feels more like a town in California than the northeast.  We had some mixed reviews from other people, some saying you have to see it and others saying to skip it.  For us, it was one of our favorite things we did, because the beaches and coastline are more rugged and the views are exceptional - even on an overcast day.  We hiked for a few hours and found it breathtaking!   So, my advice, based on one visit, if you want upscale shopping and the best restaurants then Montauk isn't going to be it, but if you want to experience the raw beauty of this part of the country, you really can't skip it. 

 Afterwards, we went to Boswick's in East Hampton for an early dinner - clam chowder and lobster rolls.  Both some of the best we've ever had.  Their fish tacos looked amazing too.  We headed back to our inn and put the fire on and watched a movie later that night. We had to be up early to catch our flight back. We might have had them bring up a cheese board and some chocolate creme brûlée for a late night snack. ;)

Truly, a wonderful weekend through and through. Thanks for letting me share it with you!

A few other musts if you find yourself there: The R.R.L. Shop (the only one in the world.  it's Ralph and Ricky Lauren's combined shop in East Hampton and it's a treasure trove.), Levain Bakery for cookies, Round Swamp Farm to pick up a picnic lunch or dinner, Amber Waves Farm Stand, Dockside in Sag Harbor for crab cakes

Skip: Tatte's Bake Shop -  pretty sure they are taking the mass produced cookies and repackaging them for the store. Disappointing.

Friday, July 13, 2018

Nantucket | Planning the Perfect Day Trip

We just returned from a wonderful week on Nantucket.  We went later in June than we normally do and surprisingly ended up with rather chilly and gray weather for the bulk of our trip.  It was perfect for long walks and bike rides, eating chowder for lunch, wearing sweaters over sundresses, snuggling under blankets while eating outside at our cottage and for lighting lots of candles in the evening.  We did have a few gorgeous cloudless, blue sky days which we happily spent on the beach.  It was a welcome reprieve from the crazy hot and humid summer we are having in Cincinnati.  I have shared lots of my Nantucket favorites in past posts (here, here,  here, here and here) so I thought this time I would do a little something different....

So many of the island visitors are day trippers.  Nantucket is the perfect place for a day trip but I think it helps to have a bit of a plan when you arrive.  Jimmy and I first visited Nantucket in the fall when Andrew was a baby.  I remember coming off the ferry and walking up and down Main Street while Andrew slept in his stroller and not really knowing what else to do with ourselves. We were young and it was a time before smart phones, blogs, google and the instagram frenzy that seems to surround the island nowadays.

Even though Nantucket is small, trying to figure out the best way to experience the island and maximize a day there can be a little daunting, especially if it's your first visit.  So... if I only had a day to spend on Nantucket, here is how I would spend it.  For each of these scenarios, I would arrive as early as you can and leave at sunset or later.  Only choose the high speed ferry for a day trip! Book in advance.  Both Hy-Line and The Steamship Authority offer high speed ferries.

Day Trip #1: Sailing + Shopping
When you arrive make a bee-line away from all the shops around the wharf.  Everyone goes in there first. Best save those for later in the day if something catches you eye.  Grab breakfast and coffee from the Hub on Main Street.  Their croissants are incredible (I recommend the ham and cheese) and I love their iced coffee!  Walk down Main Street, Centre, Federal, N. Union, India and Broad. Some hidden gems: Saturday mornings is the Farmer's & Artisan Market (Cambridge and N. Union), The Hospital Thrift Shop (India), Bookworks (Broad St. their children's section is dreamy), Flowers on Chestnut, Nantucket Looms (Main Street), and Antique Depot (S Beach St.).

After shopping for the morning, go and grab a picnic lunch from Provisions (The Turkey Terrific is my favorite. My brother's is the Curry Chicken Salad.  The Straight Wharf Fish Shop also has awesome sandwiches and lobster rolls if you want something different).  Take your picnic with you down the wharf and meet up with your Captain for a sailing trip on the Endeavor!  It's a 2 hour ride around part of the island.  You'll get the most gorgeous photos and it's just so much fun. You get a chance to escape the crowds and make a special memory.  You'll need to make reservations in advance for the 1:00 sail. 

After sailing, walk down S. Water Street (good spot to grab souvenir t-shirts if you want them) toward Broad.  The Sunken Ship is great store for hats and souvenirs too.  Get ice cream from the Juice Bar (an island visit MUST) and don't skip the waffle cone!  Walk with your ice cream to see Brant Point Lighthouse and then head back into town for dinner. There are tons of amazing dinner spots.  Straight Wharf, Boarding House, Ventuno, Greydon House, Cru, Galley Beach, Ship's Inn are just a few.  If you are feeling a little windswept and tired and want to be super casual, I'd suggest Brotherhood of Thieves.

Then catch a sunset ferry back to the mainland!

Day Trip #2: Beaches + Lighthouses
Walk to Affordable Rentals (short walk!) to pick up your jeep.  Get all the details from them on how to get to Great Point.  They are super friendly and they have the best priced rentals for a single day.  On the way out of town stop at Wicked Island Bakery to stock up on treats for a brunch picnic on the beach.  This is the island's best bakery. No contest.  Then head toward Great Point.  Crank up the music and enjoy your amazing drive on the beach!  Stop and enjoy a brunch picnic and walk towards the light house.  Even if you don't make it all the way, it's still breathtaking.  Say hi to the seals and then make your way back.  You can easily spend a few or more hours doing this.

For lunch head to the Summer House Bistro in Sconset.  Then keep your car parked and walk through town toward the Buff Walk.  It's well hidden, so ask directions if you need it. Walk the whole way to Sankaty Head Lighthouse.

Hop in your Jeep and head back into town for a late afternoon pick me up at the Juice Bar and walk to Brant Point Lighthouse.  To end your day, drive out to  Madaket to see the sunset (you'll need to take the 10pm ferry back if you do this!)  Grab dinner from the Millie's Take Out window (this is the restaurant you'll see right by the beach) before heading down to the beach.  This is an annual tradition for us!

 Hopefully those are some helpful ideas!  You can also rent bikes and explore the island that way which is what we did on a day trip several years ago and it was amazing!  You can't really go wrong with anything, just remember to reserve things in advance because it is very busy in the summer months!