Warmth, Any Way I Can Get It!

IMG_4393The weather outside, in upstate New York, is truly frightful. The temperature, right now, is 15 degrees Fahrenheit (that’s minus 9 Celsius) and that’s the warmest we will see for days. On Friday, the high is expected to be 0 F or minus 18 C. I can’t even bring myself to think about what the wind chills will be!

This is our driveway, AKA the rink. That’s ice and it’s not going to go away.

IMG_4431But I found a way to combat the cold! No, not hot toddies and buttered rum—it’s not noon yet and even I can’t hit the hard stuff this early!

I finally decided to get back to washing and ironing some of my beloved vintage linens—it’s been months since I focused on them and I haven’t listed new ones on Etsy in a very long time.

I figured ironing would help keep me warm. So I put on some music and reached for the items on the top of the pile.

And serendipity kicked in. The music was Jimmy Buffett and the linens at the top were napkins that scream PICNIC! Then I found a set of vintage nesting camp cups that completed the scene.

IMG_4397So, I’ve been having a lovely little beachy interlude. The steam’s rising off the iron, Jimmy is singing about Margaritaville, and these linens, with their fresh colors and stripes, help me believe that it’s possible to be warm in spirit, even as Mother Nature pitches us into the deep freeze. And to believe that the weather will warm up, eventually.

This should hold me over until it’s a legitimate time for a hot adult beverage! Maybe I’ll put it in one of those nesting cups, sit in front of the fireplace and pretend it’s a campfire at the beach!

If you’re in the Northern Hemisphere, I hope you’re staying warm!


The World’s Most Perfect Hors D’Oeuvres

IMG_4322I’ve been saving this for you! For this very moment, when, after the round of holiday parties and dozens of the same old snacks, you need something new and different and yummy to take to that New Year’s Eve get-together or Super Bowl party.

This recipe for a savory cheesecake spread is incredibly easy, really tasty, and unusual enough to cement your reputation as a great and imaginative cook.

What you need before you start, though, is a small springform pan. I love using a springform pan because it makes me feel like a real cook. While it’s easy enough to find a standard-size pan of about 12 inches, you may need to shop on-line to find a 6-inch pan.

And you need some sort of savory jelly or jam. I got the recipe for this cheesecake from a woman who made garlic jelly—it sounds kind of gross but it was wonderful and the resulting cheesecake was spectacular. She sold the jelly with the springform pan and included the recipe—a kit for perfection!

The first time I served this at a party, a friend who LOVES food, wandered around our house with his plate full of the cheesecake, talking with his mouth full, saying, “this is the BEST thing I’ve ever eaten.”

People don’t usually say that about the things I cook so I knew I had a winner!

Since I made that first cheesecake and used up the garlic jelly, I’ve made the cheesecake with garlic jam made by Stonewall Kitchen, as well as hot pepper jellies that are much easier to find. All of these are equally grand or you might find a jelly that has hot peppers AND garlic!

IMG_4287Hot Pepper or Garlic Jelly Savory Cheesecake

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

1 egg

6 oz. grated Monterey Jack cheese

½ cup grated Parmesan or Romano cheese

8 oz. cream cheese (easiest if you let it soften to room temp first)

1 tsp. cracked black peppercorns

1 jar (13-17 oz.) hot pepper jelly (or garlic jelly), divided

Mix first five ingredients together with half of the jelly.

Pour mixture into greased 6-inch spring form pan; I also cut a circle of cook’s parchment paper to line the bottom of the pan and placed the whole thing on parchment on a cookie sheet. I love using parchment paper because it makes me feel . . . well, you know.

Bake at 375 degrees for 40-45 minutes. It’ll get quite brown and be just a little jiggly in the middle. When you take it out of the oven, the top will be puffed up and will slowly sink, to make a perfect little bowl for the remaining jelly.

Cool completely. Remove the outside of the pan. Top with remaining jelly. Serve with crackers. Wait for people to ask for the recipe.

246 Hours of Christmas Love

I’ve said it before and I’m sure to say it again.

I love Santa.

And I especially love this Santa.

IMG_4150It pains me that this Santa comes out only for a few weeks a year.

My husband, the cross stitcher, made this Christmas stocking for me—possibly the most perfect example of loving hands at home! At the time he made it, we lived in a big city and had a summer “camp” in upstate New York. We loved the rustic spot but only lived there for a couple months in the summer. We worked in the city and yearned for the country and the Adirondacks and Lake Champlain.

So he chose a cross-stitch pattern for my stocking that would bring the rustic to our city Christmas.

And being the kind of guy he is, he kept track of every minute he spent on stitching the very dense, detailed pattern.

It took him . . . wait for it . . . 246 hours and 20 minutes!

He also spent time figuring out about how much he made per hour, as a college prof and business consultant, and let me know how much the stocking was worth, if he had been paid that hourly wage to make it. It was a big number, reflecting big love.

He gave me the stocking 10 years ago today! Of course, I knew it was coming—he could never have worked so long on it without me knowing. But to see it all done, in its glory . . . well, every year when I take it out of storage, I’m amazed all over again!

In the 10 years since I received it, a lot has changed. He has made stockings for a sweet niece:

stockinga grandson:

IMG_1055and is currently working on a new stocking for a new grandson.

IMG_4296And we have moved from the city to our “camp” full time. We live in a rustic setting, in the country, and my Santa looks right at home.

It seems to me that this is what Christmas is all about. Being in a comfortable place that feels like home, with reminders of how very much one is loved.

If you celebrate Christmas, is there one ornament or decoration that sums up the meaning of holiday for you? I’d love to hear about it.


Yes, Virginia . . .

Yes, VIRGINIA, there is a Santa Claus. He exists as certainly as love and generosity and devotion exist, and you know that they abound and give to your life its highest beauty and joy. Alas! how dreary would be the world if there were no Santa Claus.    –Francis Pharcellus Church

IMG_4141Reading your blogs has taught me so much. One thing I’ve learned lately is that decorating for Christmas is a passion. I knew this on a theoretical level before but, now, having read about and seen so many of your decorations around the world, I understand it in a much more fundamental way.

Even those of us who could only be described as cultural Christians—non-religious now but having been brought up in religious homes, with lots of Christmas memories—find joy at this time of year in bringing out the crèches and other Christmas treasures.

And, when we decorate, many of us seem to focus around collections of meaningful objects and feature them in our homes.

For me, I love Santa. So, even when we don’t do the full-blown decorating of a big tree and the whole house, we always bring out our main collection at Christmas—these Santas that line the mantle.

Our Santas have been coming to us for over 20 years and are primarily from the line of Great American Collectibles Old World Santas. These are carved and hand-painted resin figurines, made in the US. A few new ones are released every year and depict, mostly, folk art-style Santas from around the world.

The first one of these Santas that we received Mickey, an Irish Santa given to us by a friend after we went to Ireland on our honeymoon.

We liked Mickey’s look so much, we’ve brought many of his brothers home over the years.

Many of the Santas have sweet animals with them, which adds enormously to their appeal for us.

Some of our Santas come from other places.

We have our Millennial Penn State Santa:

Penn State Santa

Penn State Santa

And our Santa from the American Folk Art Museum in New York City.

American Folk Art Museum Santa

American Folk Art Museum Santa

And we have Santas from garage sales!

3 garage sale Santas

3 garage sale Santas

These Santas sleep patiently in storage for most of the year, waiting to come out at Christmas and remind us of all the good that Santa Claus symbolizes—love and generosity and devotion. I believe in Santa! Do you?

Lifelong learning: Some free & inexpensive resources

Since I know many of you are curious, inquisitive, and open to learning wherever you can, I wanted to share this with you. David Yamada, a fellow college prof, has put together this great list of life-long learning opportunities. I have friends who’ve taken courses on Coursera, for one, and they loved them! Take a look and check out David’s blog, Musings of a Gen Joneser–good reading!

Musings of a Gen Joneser

I’m a lifelong learning junkie, and perhaps you are, too. The world of adult education is somewhat stratified right now: If you want to earn a degree, it will cost you money, maybe a lot of it. On the other hand, if your main objectives involve independent learning, intellectual growth, and personal enrichment, your free and low-cost options are virtually limitless!

Let’s start with your public library. A treasure trove awaits, in big cities and small towns alike. Most libraries are now heavily invested in multi-media, offering DVDs and e-books in addition to print materials.

Of course, don’t forget “old” (heh) online standbys such as YouTube and Wikipedia. There’s a staggering amount of good stuff on both.

Beyond the most obvious candidates, you’ll discover so much more. Here’s a sampling:

Open Culture is a rich portal to all sorts of lifelong learning options, including free courses, movies &…

View original post 410 more words

Christmas Senses: The Smell of Oranges and Cloves

IMG_4089I like my Christmas to smell.

Yes, I want to see bright lights and colors, as well as snow on the ground. I want the taste of peppermint and the feel of flannel PJs but mostly I love the smells I associate with the winter holidays.

You probably know the smells I mean. Evergreen boughs. Cookies baking. A wood fire. Caramel and chocolate and mint.

And the best smell of all, to my way of thinking—oranges studded with cloves.

Every year at this time, my husband gets a big bag of oranges and a big jar of whole cloves and makes pomanders while he watches football on TV.

He has done this for many years and, because the cloves dry and preserve the oranges, we probably have pomanders around here that are older than some of you!

Pomanders make a wonderful addition to holiday decorating.  They are natural and rustic and nostalgic but can also look quite modern, with the geometric design and bright contrast of colors.

And they are very easy to make. And pretty inexpensive. And they last, it seems, forever. You can even put them out in the fall and leave them out all winter because they don’t scream “Christmas.”

But, really, we make them mostly for that heavenly, spicy, zippy smell of bright citrus mixed with exotic clove.

Are you ready to start?

IMG_4061You’ll need:

Oranges—get small to medium ones. They don’t have to be perfect and expensive. Save your money for the zester (see below).

Whole cloves—don’t buy these in the little tins in the baking aisle, unless you only want to make one or two pomanders—they’re expensive that way! Try a restaurant supply store or a place like Sam’s Club, or order online, where you can find a whole pound for about $15-20. That big jar in the photos holds 11 ounces and has lasted a long time.

You won’t need but you’ll want:

A good zester—you can make pomanders by sticking holes in the orange with a skewer and putting cloves in the holes. But my husband’s method is so quick and sensible that, if you’re serious about this, you should consider it. He uses a heavy-duty zester—the brand is Rosle. This zester sells for about $25, which, I admit, is a crazy price for such a tool but it makes this job so easy! And I’m sure you occasionally want zest for a cocktail or something, right? Or is that just me?

To make your pomanders, use the larger hole on the side of the zester, called a channel, to carve a design in the orange. It’s very sharp so you can easily do stripes or swirls or spirals or a happy face. You can probably do monograms if you choose! Be sure to carve enough lines for a lot of cloves—remember you’re trying to preserve the oranges.

IMG_4072Once you have the design carved, stick the pointy ends of the cloves as far as they’ll go into the white pith of the orange. The cloves should go in close to each other, almost touching. Don’t be stingy—remember you’re trying to preserve the oranges!

IMG_4077How easy is that?

So easy that, while you’re doing all this, you’ll have plenty of time to breathe deeply. Smell that wonderful smell. Finish one pomander and make another. And another. Tuck them into baskets and bowls and tie ribbons around them and hang them from a wreath or a tree.

IMG_4092You may find it quite addicting! And next year, you’ll make new ones to nestle up against the ones from this year. The old ones will be dried out and a little pale and not as fragrant but, hey, that happens to all of us eventually!

IMG_4073Pretty soon you’ll have generations of pomanders and a new family tradition. Start now!


One more thing—don’t throw the little scraps of orange rind and broken cloves away!

IMG_4100Put them in a sauce pan on your stove with some water and maybe a cinnamon stick and let it all simmer. Pay attention and add more water when needed and fill your home with the smell of Christmas!


The Power of Positive Vibes . . . And a Great Sister!

Thanks to the good vibes you directed my way and to my amazing sister, the holiday boutique I participated in was truly fun!

It was a long day—we set up at 7:30 a.m., the doors opened at 10, and closed at 7:00 p.m.—but it went by pretty fast. Those of you who assured me that, of course, people would want to buy chocolate were right—we had lots of interest and lots of folks went away with chocolate for gifts, and for themselves.

For the display table, I used some of my stash of vintage linens—I grabbed everything red and white—so it looked festive and different than the other displays. I polished up some Revere bowls and dragged out the vintage aluminum platters and was set to go.

The most popular items didn’t come as a surprise to me—chocolate-covered caramels with fleur de sel have always been my best seller and peppermint bark just tastes like Christmas.

I was so glad to have my sister’s help—most of the vendors were there by themselves and had no on else to rely on. Just having the friendly support of someone who totally understands me made a huge difference!

My introverted tendencies didn’t get in the way. I’m not especially shy—I’m what a friend calls “an introvert with good social skills.” So the day went fine while I was there but I was glad to have a long-ish drive home the next day, alone, with no one who wanted me to talk to them! My people batteries are drained!

So, thank you to all of you who were so supportive and made such kind comments beforehand and thanks, again, to the sister who is my biggest supporter and best marketer! I feel so lucky to have you all on my side!

Oh, Fudge!

IMG_4025What would Christmas be without fudge? Dick, without Jane. Tarzan, without Jane (was it the same Jane, do you think?) Santa, without Rudolph. Eggnog, without rum.

It would be sad, that’s what it would be!

While I’m away, selling candy to the huddled masses of Westchester County, New York, I thought I’d empower you to make your own holiday fudge. I could sell it to you but you’re a crafty, self-sufficient, DIY bunch and this fudge is really easy. If you do a good job with this, someday I’ll teach you to temper chocolate and you won’t need me at all!

And the recipe makes five pounds of fudge! You know you’d never buy that much candy but, hey, if the recipe provides that much, who are you to argue?

I’m giving you a basic recipe, published several years ago in the Buffalo News. I always, always, add dried sour cherries from Michigan because they counteract the sometimes-overwhelming sweetness of fudge.

I almost always add walnuts, too, because my husband loves them and it’s easier to put them in than to listen to him miss them, in that sad little voice of his.

You can add what you like—toasted pecans, raisins, craisins, toasted coconut, crispy bacon. All of the above. Or even none of the above, for purists.

This makes a pretty, always welcome, stocking stuffer, cut in 2- or 3-inch squares and tucked in a cellophane bag with a pretty ribbon. You can also add it to that plate of cookies you give all your friends and co-workers. Or you can keep it for yourself and start a diet with me on January 2!


Line 10 x 15 pan with foil

* ½ cup butter or margarine
* 1 can (about 14-ounce) evaporated milk (NOT sweetened condensed milk)
* 4 1/2 cups sugar
* 8 ounces marshmallows; I use mini-marshmallows
* 2 ounces unsweetened chocolate (all of these chocolates can be found in the baking aisle; they’re often sold under the name “Baker’s”)
* 12 ounces semisweet chocolate
* 8 ounces sweet baking chocolate
* 1 Tablespoon vanilla
*1 cup roughly chopped walnuts
* 1 cup roughly chopped dried sour cherries
(or about 2 cups of whatever add-ins sound good to you)

Combine butter, milk, and sugar in a large saucepan. Stir over medium heat until sugar dissolves. Bring to a boil and cover. Turn down a little and boil for 5 minutes.

Remove from heat. Add marshmallows; stir until melted. Add the three kinds of chocolate, one at a time, stirring until melted. Blend in vanilla and whatever you’re adding.

Pour into foil-lined 10-by-15-inch pan. The 10-by-15-inch pan is often called a jelly roll pan. You could use any similarly sized pan but I wouldn’t go smaller or the fudge will be very thick. Not that there’s anything wrong with that.

Let fudge stand until firm. When the fudge has set, put a cutting board on top and carefully flip it over so that the fudge leaves the pan. Peel the foil off and cut as desired.

Fudge will dry out pretty quickly if left in the air. Wrap it in plastic and store in a plastic container for a few days or wrap tightly and freeze. Fudge freezes quite well!