Sunday, December 29, 2013

College graduation - I was NOT going to cry . . .

My oldest son, John, graduated on December 15th, and, as momentous as the event was for us, with the impending Christmas holiday, I hadn't had time to post anything on the blog about it, or even to digest it.

I am so enormously proud of this MAN . . . I guess I really need to get used to the word - man!

I found the official portrait above under the tree on Christmas morning.  You see, I had asked, reasoned and nagged, and had gotten a resounding no - he was NOT going to go get his picture taken.  And then, he surprised me.  A genuine, honest to goodness surprise!  I'm not caught off-guard very often . . .

Here he is with his friend, Don, who was Class Marshall - he got to wear the cool red gown - and a couple of his teachers.

This is what I'll remember most about that day:  We had to get up at an ungodly hour to be able to drop John off an hour before start time . . . It was cold that morning!  I mean, it was really cold and the wind was blowing high . . . I had a pain between my brows from frowning against the wind, even for the short walk between the parking lot and the building . . . My hair . . . I don't want to think about my hair . . . I bought coffee to warm up and ended up spilling it under the stadium seat.  David, my younger son, had to go get a wad of napkins to mop it up . . .  the seats were uncomfortable (although we had good visibility) so I shifted positions constantly, even my patient David was ready to throttle me . . . I was not going to cry . . .  This was no cozy, intimate, reflective moment . . . it was loud, the lights were garish, I was cold, uncomfortable . . . I had been to many graduations that looked remarkably like this one . . . and then the orchestra started to play "Pomp and Circumstance" . . . and the procession began . . . first the professors, then the students . . . I was not going to cry . . . slowly, this stopped feeling like an ordinary graduation . . . then I saw John . . . and the dam broke . . . 

And I don't cry pretty . . . I do the ugly cry, the kind with the runny nose, and smeared mascara, and the blotchy red face. . .  the only good thing is, I do it quietly, I don't sob, usually, maybe if I did, the rest of my face wouldn't get so messed up . . .  But I stopped . . . the thought of a blotchy face AND a messy hair was scaring me to death . . . and I was missing out on this tremendous pageantry!

My brother, Al, and sister-in-law, Kathy, were there . . . as they were on the day John was born . . .

My sister-in-law, Mary Ann, and her family were there . . . Mary Ann is a pharmacist and had just finished a 12-hour shift at work, but she wanted to be there . . . I was so touched . . .

And I guess it has to be done . . . Here is our little family . . . not the best picture we've ever taken, but one that will be sure to bring back a lot of memories . . . (Besides, I'll show you our Christmas card picture tomorrow . . . it's really much nicer).

John completed two separate degrees, so he received two tassels.  The brown one is for the Bachelor of Fine Arts degree, and the blue one is for the Bachelor of Science in Education . . .  Hmm . . . brown and blue . . . is there a tablescape color scheme in there . . . ?

This has been a hectic season . . . Busy, exciting, emotional . . . and unforgettable.

I'm joining The Tablescaper for Seasonal Sundays.

Thursday, December 26, 2013

A Romantic Christmas Eve

I was going to call this "A Very Paisley Christmas" in honor of the Red Caroline Paisley from Pottery Barn that captured my heart a while back.  You can see a little bit of the napkin here in this Valentine's tea post from last February.

But then, I decided to fold the napkins à la fleur-de-lis to show off its gorgeous pattern . . .

The centerpiece from had pretty red roses in a mercury glass container . . .

 I love the look of mercury glass . . .

But the arrangement seemed a bit too dark to me, so I added some Baby's Breath . . .


Suddenly, the romance of it all struck me . . .

It reminds me of a Victorian-era table . . .  Hmm . . . would Mr. Dickens approve . . . ?

Each little box contained Godiva truffles.  Everyone should wake up to truffles on Christmas morning, don't you think . . . ?  The little packages were tied with red ribbon and I added a Christmas ornament, to be hung on the tree later on . . .

We had a toddler in our midst this year, so we dug up the table and chair set that my boys used when they were little, and set up a proper table for this young man . . .

Oliver, my brother's first grandson, and my great-nephew, stole the show, in the same way that he's stolen our hearts.  What a cutie!

Here's the family, as we sat down to say grace.  The menu:  Waldorf Salad on Baby Romaine, Filet of Beef Au Jus, Mashed Potatoes, Steamed Broccoli . . .

And for dessert a Cookie Tower.  I became a baking fool this Christmas with the help of my son, John, enabler and invaluable assistant.  The phrase "visions of sugar-plums danced in her head" could have been applied to me!

The tower included Cranberry Pistachio cookies, Magic Bars (Chocolate Chips, Butterscotch Chips and Coconut with a gooey center), Double Chocolate Chip Peppermint Cookies, Pecan Butter Balls, Almond Cream Cheese Cookies, Chocolate Espresso Snowcaps, Chocolate Chip Cookies, with semi-sweet chocolate drizzles, Almond Raspberry Thumbprints, Potato Chip Cookies, and Peanut Butter Chocolate Blossoms . . .

A closeup of the Almond Raspberry Thumbprints, Potato Chip Cookies and Peanut Butter Chocolate Blossoms . . .

The chocolate chip cookies are on the right, because it isn't Christmas around here without your basic CCC, and to the left . . . Pecan Butterballs, recipe from the Silver Palate Cookbook.  Let me tell you, those Butterballs are the essence of winter, they are kissed with HONEY and seem to melt in your mouth . . . fabulous . . .

Here you can see the Chocolate Espresso Snow caps and the Almond Cookies a little better.  These are not the best pictures but I was snapping away as fast as I could before the cookies were devoured . . .

The Chocolate Espresso Snowcaps were a new addition to our cookie repertoire, I found them in Pinterest but they are Martha Stewart's.  The were delicious and so pretty, too!  Here is the link for the recipe. 

My sister-in-law, Kathy, also brought a gorgeous, delicious flan to share!  I wish I had taken a picture of it.  It was a beautiful thing.  It can be tricky to bake a flan to a proper consistency, but hers was perfect!  Oh, if only we could slow events down a little bit so we could capture everything on camera!

And here is the photo that still makes me smile:  My son, John, trying to hold on to a slippery Oliver, and my other son, David, in the background with a half-smile on his face.  He seems to be thinking:  “Better you than me, bro!”  Oh, what a wonderful Christmas Eve!  I hope yours was, too!

I'm joining Tablescape Thursday at Between Naps on the Porch and Let's Dish! at Cuisine Kathleens!  Please stop by for inspiration!

Saturday, December 14, 2013


Scarlet shades of red
Liven holiday decor
Christmastime again
—Milton Toran

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Christmas garland

There's nothing like a fresh evergreen garland at Christmastime . . .

with its wonderful cedar and pine aroma . . .  Throw in a little red . . .

 Add some loopy string and ribbon . . . some silver bells . . .

and you'll be walking around the house singing Christmas carols in no time . . .

Monday, December 9, 2013

Black Friday

Oh, sure, some folks went shopping . . . but some of us relaxed with good friends and comfort food . . .

There was already a pretty centerpiece ready to be used again . . .

And this time, the table is set in calming neutrals.  Pretty soon, we will be surrounded by Christmas colors!

I love that hour before a party starts, and the table is set . . .

The sun is setting and its rays are streaming through the windows.  It's such a lovely sight!

Won't you join me for an apéritif before the guests arrive?


Dinnerware - Traditions by Williams-Sonoma (my every day dinnerware)
Flatware - Treble Clef by Gourmet Settings
Glassware - The Dollar Tree
Wheelbarrow Cellars (used here for red pepper flakes) - Pottery Barn (several years ago)
Linens - Pottery Barn Classic Linen in Flax
Mini Salt & Pepper Shakers - Crate and Barrel eons ago
Tall candlesticks - Marshall Field's (wedding present 30 years ago)
Short candlesticks - The Dollar Tree

Saturday, November 30, 2013

Thanksgiving Day 2013

Our celebration was small - just my husband and sons - but lovely, and made to feel very special with their favorite dishes set on a colorful table.

Here's proof that you don't have to spend a fortune to put together a pretty table . . .

You've seen before most of the elements that make up this table . . .

The one new thing are the dinner plates - Rachel Ray Double Ridge Cobalt Blue, recently acquired at my local supermarket (Jewel/Osco) on a stamps-for-china program!  I'm still trying to complete the set before the program expires!  
And now, my favorite part:  The flowers!  There's a new supermarket near my office called “Mariano's” that carries beautiful blooms, very fresh and a little out of the ordinary.  Their florist was very accommodating as she put together this lovely centerpiece . . .

It was made up of Purple Matsumoto Asters, Terracotta Yarrow, Red-tinted Salidago (that looks almost brown), Craspedia (Billy Balls), Red Hypericum berries and pinecones - so vibrant!

The meal was extravagantly conventional - you can't mess with tradition, but along with the pumpkin pie, we enjoyed a delightful new treat:  Ina Garten's French Chocolate Bark - I'll share the recipe soon!  
I hope your Thanksgiving was filled with joy, loving family and friends, good food, and a delightful tablescape.  God bless!

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Tea Bread Tuesday: Sweet Potato Bourbon Bundt Cake

WARNING:  This cake could become highly addictive.  DO NOT bake unless you have a house full of willing tasters!  It's too dangerous to have this much deliciousness just sitting around your kitchen counter! 

Since this was a trial run for Thanksgiving, we savored a portion for dessert, saved a piece for my husband for breakfast, then packed up the rest and took it to work to share with my co-workers, who didn't lose any time in gobbling it up!

Sweet potatoes, bourbon and pecans:  Could anything be more southern?  This bundt cake is very moist to begin with, and then, on top of that, you serve it with a delicious bourbon syrup!  I'd never cooked with bourbon before.  Actually, I had never even tried it.  Wow!  This is strong stuff!  Of course, the alcohol is evaporated in the cooking process so you won't get tipsy!
Look how the cake glistens with the sugar syrup!  The syrup was brushed on after the cake came out of the oven.  And I love how the pecans show up on the surface of the cake, like little promises of what's waiting inside!  This is a Martha Stewart recipe.  Good ol' Martha, she never disappoints me!  Click here for the recipe.

Thumbs up!  I'll be making this again tomorrow night!  Calling all tasters!

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Apropos of nothing . . . XYZ Riddle solved!

A few years ago, I came across a short little poem that has stuck in my head and bedeviled me ever since.  Here it is again:

The cross the fork the zigzag—a few straight lines
For pain, quandary and evasion, the last of signs.
—Robert Pinsky

I wrote about it on this blog on April 24, 2009.  Click here for the post.

And here is the comment I wrote:

O.K., I get that X is the cross (pain), Y is the fork (quandary) and Z is the zigzag (evasion). What does the author mean by "the last of signs?" Such short lines and they are giving me a headache!

Ever since, when I least expect it, the poem worms itself into my consciousness and I revisit it over and over, until, with a Gallic shrug (I pretend I'm French) I once again set it aside.  Yes, I know that X, Y and Z are the last three letters of the alphabet, but what is the metaphor? 

Then today, the skies opened up, the sun came out and I'm pretty sure I heard angels sing!  I found this analysis by Erin Yorke online.  And here are the two beautiful sentences that jumped out at me from that essay:

“At the end of the alphabet, they are closing the end of communication, of signals, of individual lives and life itself, ‘the last of signs’.  It is almost as if the speaker has one, last brief image to leave with loved ones and strangers on the planet.”

It's so simple - now that it's been explained to me! 

Release, Maria . . . you can let this one go now . . .  Life is good.

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Halloween Beets!

Orange beets?  I've never seen the like!  Aren't they gorgeous?  Actually, they are called Golden Beets.  I spotted them at Whole Foods on Sunday morning while browsing in the produce aisles.  Every time I do that I get in trouble.  There's always a new veggie that wants to jump into my cart!  I showed them to my husband who immediately proclaimed:  Halloween Beets!  We had to bring some home, of course!

Slice up a red onion, for even more Halloween color!  And, why do they call it a red onion when anybody with a decent set of eyes can see that it's really purple?

I layered the salad on a beet leave.  It's so pretty - and completely edible, too!

We love this salad!  I shared the recipe here,  but this time I used Montrachet Goat Cheese with Garlic and Herbs for a change of pace.  It was so light and creamy!  I'm going to have to use that cheese again soon!  Isn't it fun to change up a recipe now and then?  It's such an adventure!

Doesn't it look good?  Lately, I find that I prefer dotting salads with a Balsamic vinegar reduction, instead of dousing them with salad dressing.  A little restraint really allows for the flavors to come through.

I toss it with my hands, so as not to break the slices.  Sure, broken pieces would be just as tasty, but where is the art?  The tossed beets, with onions, olive oil, salt and pepper are stored in the refrigerator in a covered dish, then the remaining ingredients are added when I'm ready to serve.

With some chicken roasting in the oven, and the salad ready to serve, we turned our attention to the main event for the night - answering the doorbell!

Sunday, October 20, 2013

A Shakespearean Halloween

A dark Cave. In the middle, a Caldron boiling. Thunder.
                Enter the three Witches.

  1 WITCH.  Thrice the brinded cat hath mew'd.
  2 WITCH.  Thrice and once, the hedge-pig whin'd.
  3 WITCH.  Harpier cries:—'tis time! 'tis time!
 1 WITCH.  Round about the caldron go;
  In the poison'd entrails throw.—

    Toad, that under cold stone,
    Days and nights has thirty-one;
Swelter'd venom sleeping got,
Boil thou first i' the charmed pot!

       ALL.  Double, double toil and trouble; 
    Fire burn, and caldron bubble.

2 WITCH.  Fillet of a fenny snake,
    In the caldron boil and bake; 

    Eye of newt,

and toe of frog,

Wool of bat, and tongue of dog,

    Adder's fork, and blind-worm's sting,
    Lizard's leg, and owlet's wing,—

    For a charm of powerful trouble,
    Like a hell-broth boil and bubble. 

       ALL.  Double, double toil and trouble;
    Fire burn, and caldron bubble.

    3 WITCH.  Scale of dragon; tooth of wolf;
    Witches' mummy; maw and gulf 

  Of the ravin'd salt-sea shark;
    Root of hemlock digg'd i the dark;

    Liver of blaspheming Jew;
    Gall of goat, and slips of yew
    Sliver'd in the moon's eclipse;
   Nose of Turk, and Tartar's lips;

Finger of birth-strangled babe
    Ditch-deliver'd by a drab,—
Make the gruel thick and slab: 

Add thereto a tiger's chaudron,
For the ingrediants of our caldron.      

ALL.  Double, double toil and trouble;
    Fire burn, and caldron bubble.

       2 WITCH.  Cool it with a baboon's blood,
Then the charm is firm and good.

Act IV, Scene 1, Macbeth, by William Shakespeare

The cast:

Witches Brew Linens and Salad Plates:  Pottery Barn Online
Black dinner plates:  The Dollar Tree
Water and wine glasses:  The Dollar Tree
Short candlesticks:  The Dollar Tree
Tall candlesticks:  Wedding gift from Marshall Field's, 30 years ago
Flatware:  Treble Clef by Gourmet Settings
Dessert glassware, candles:  Bed, Bath and Beyond
Black tablecloths:  Bed, Bath and Beyond
Mercury glass pumpkin and crow:  Pottery Barn
Mini salt and pepper shakers:  Crate and Barrel
Slate servers:  Crate and Barrel

I'm linking to the following parties:

Tablescape Thursday @ Between Naps on the Porch

Let's Dish at Cuisine Kathleen