December 29, 2014

Cozy Post-Christmas Dinner

The stockings were hung, the cards were sent, bellies were filled and treats were bestowed! Phew! That's A LOT of work and now its time to relax and PARTY!
So, what to do with all those leftover ingredients? Make a YUMMY corn chowder while still basking in the glow from the tree, and before the sad process begins of taking the decorations down until next year.

The recipe I have for corn chowder is from one of my favorite cookbooks, Peter Christian's Recipes, and though it's been adapted by my friend Meg, and then by me, the recipe still has the same essence of this fabulous, quaint New England restaurant. 

Peter Christian's Restaurant is a little place in New London, NH where I have enjoyed many a meal since I was a young girl. At one point, there was even a Peter Christian's outpost in Hanover, NH where I went to college. So, I got to eat their goodies at our vacation home AND on campus! (I even tried to get a job there while in college, wearing my best version of hippie-chic, but alas, my preppiness was too obvious and I didn't get the job…). Anyway, Peter Christian's still exists and if you happen to be in New London, its a required stop! Though under different ownership, it still has the same ambiance that made us all love it in the first place. 

I made a little dinner for my husband and me, to relax by the tree, but I doubled the recipe because at this point in time, I have approximately seven extra kids (to my three) at any point circulating through during this holiday week and I need FOOD and plenty of it for whenever someone's hungry. Because at this point, this is what my front hall looks like. That's normal to have a ping-pong table smack in the center, right? Ha ha!
The recipe here serves 6, but as I've mentioned, it can easily be doubled. I'll post it below. But here we go! Its SO yummy! And super EASY!
First, I grabbed all the ingredients.
The recipe calls for one medium onion, but since it was the holidays, and the grocery store was completely picked over, all they had were small onions. So I chopped up two.
 The easiest way to chop onions is to slice them in half.
 Then slice opposite the grain (so to speak) so when you slice again the other way...
…you instantly have a nice diced onion!
 The next ingredient you need to chop is celery. I just keep slicing the stalks the long way so the pieces get continually thinner...
and thinner...
…and then, just like the onions, I line up the pieces and chop the ends and they  end up in a nice dice with half the effort. I know you all know most of this, but I write the steps out in case my kids - who are learning to cook- actually read this :)
Next up - potatoes. I use golden potatoes for this recipe because they add a nice creamy texture to the chowder, but any potato would work.
Make a nice diced bunch to add to the mix.
Once all the veggies are chopped, its time to melt the butter and begin assembling the chowder. Oh, and it smells REALLY good so beware of lurking husbands and kids!
Once the butter is melted, add the onions and celery and mix it together.
Then, add the potatoes and let it sauté for about ten minutes or so to brown and soften slightly.
Its looking pretty good at this point and people are swilling around, so you know its time for the next step.
Add one cup of water. I LOVE these measuring cups where you can see the amounts from the top down, and not just the sides. You can find them in most grocery stores.
Once you've added the water, let the whole mixture simmer until the veggies are soft and tender.
Next up? Two cans of creamed corn. YUM! Part of my family grew up in Amish country, so creamed corn is a major staple of our holidays. Usually made from scratch by my Aunt Sue with her true Amish recipe, I revert to the easy kind out of a can. Its still good, but definitely not as delicious as my aunt's!
Mix everything together well to blend all the ingredients.
Milk is the next ingredient. I use 1% milk, but any kind of milk is fine. 
 Mix that together and blend it well. There's enough going on that the fat content of the milk doesn't make a huge difference because we are adding a little…
…light cream.
Next up… seasonings! I use a LOT of pepper when I cook. So you can use less. I put in about a little more than a teaspoon of pepper, and about a teaspoon of salt. And for the secret kick, add Old Bay seasoning! It adds the perfect bite. If you're not familiar with Old Bay, get so! Used a lot on the Mid-Atlantic shores with crabs and other goodies, it adds the perfect to touch to almost anything and I like it a LOT more than cayenne pepper. Its also great on popcorn!
 While the chowder is simmering for approximately 20 minutes, chop up basil to add as a garnish that gives a nice kick at the end. To do so, trim the basil stems and roll up the leaves...
 …then slice cross-wise to sort of "julienne" the basil...
and this is what it will look like. Perfect little strips to add to the chowder!
Looks and SMELLS so YUMMY!
Now comes the fun - setting the table! The company, Harbor Sweets, started in the basement next to my husband's childhood home by Mr. Ben Strohecker. 
Harbor Sweets makes these little candies that are called Sweet Sloops. They are delicious little nuggets of butter crunch sails, covered in white and dark chocolate and dipped in nuts as the waves along the hull. The story goes, that my mother-in-law bought every piece of candy Mr. Strohecker made his first year, thus ensuring he had enough money to keep going. And the rest is history! We get lots of sweet sloops and other candies from Harbor Sweets every Christmas so they are the perfect favor for my cozy dinner with my hubby!
I put them on a little Wedgewood "Nantucket" plate under a bell jar I painted.
Here, you can better see my painting. I used white paint pens on the outside of the glass jar and just drew a simple, wintry scene. The I added a ribbon to decorate the top.
I found these pretty gold polka-dotted bowls at Home Goods and knew they'd be perfect for my little dinner.
I added some crusty bread to use for sopping up the yummy chowder and used gold-plated acorns as napkin rings.
 I LOVE favors at dinner :)
Bon appétit!
And when it was all said and done, my husband and I walked our grand puppy, Oakley, to the lighthouse around the block, still decorated for the holidays, and enjoyed the night air while thinking about the year to come.


Corn Chowder - Serves 6

In a soup pot, melt 3 tablespoons of butter

Dice and sauté for 10 minutes:
     1 medium onion
     1 celery stalk
     2 potatoes

Add 1 cup of water and simmer until veggies are tender

Stir in:
     2 1lb. cans of creamed corn
     2 1/2 cups milk
     1. cup of light cream

Season with:
     1 teaspoon of black pepper 
     1 teaspoon of salt
     1 tablespoon of Old Bay Seasonings (or more or less, depending on taste)

Continue to simmer for 20 minutes
Garnish with fresh, chopped basil


December 12, 2014

EASY Wreath Workshop
'Tis the Season to decorate and make everything Merry and Bright! So, what to do when you're tired, stressed and need to decorate but just aren't in the mood? One word. Wreaths.

Decorating wreaths, and using greens in fun ways, is one of the EASIEST ways to dress up a door, car (yes, I put a wreath on my car), and even the "for sale" sign!
Yes, this is the sign outside my beautiful home. Want a super nice Christmas present? 
It's a great house, just too big with kids all grown -
And I won't even tell you how long its been for sale :(

It was a stinky day when I decided to make my wreaths, and it didn't look like the weather was going to get better anytime soon. 
 This is the view off my porch. It was blowing so hard that I could only take a quick pic!
Another angle. See the big waves in the distance? Yikes!

Anyway, as I was saying, decorating wreaths is super simple and this is how I made mine this year! I cranked the music and went to work! First, I bought a plain, old wreath you can find anywhere from your local supermarket or garden store.
Then I compiled my accoutrements (don't I sound so French and fancy? ha ha).
 Pepper berries are the perfect addition to add a shot of color!
I found a couple of fuzzy barn-owly looking owls. (I'm also a grammersmith :). I'll call him "Henry". Feeling in the woodsy mood, but needing a little glam, I grabbed some olive satin ribbon, a pretty checked wired plaid ribbon and some pinecones. I spray-painted the pinecones with gold paint and then when the paint was still wet, I sprinkled some gold glitter on the tips for some extra sparkle. (My hands were covered in paint and glitter, and I didn't want to wreck my camera, hence there are no pictures of this step - sorry!)
I trimmed the berry branches into small pieces.
Then...and here's the amazingly EASY step you'll use forever…I took the pieces of the berry branch and shoved them into the wreath going against the grain (or opposite the way the greens are facing). 
Every wreath is just a wired bunch of greens made into a circle. The key here is to find that wire, and then insert whatever you choose, into it. Its kind of like teasing hair - you push against the wreath, into the wire and things just stay! You can do this with a million different things. It all depends on your preference and I've used heather, holly, grapevines, rose hips, you name it. And I've shoved all of it into wreaths the same way, and you don't usually have to add any extra wire. Its that SIMPLE!
Here is my wreath, ready for the next steps. I spaced the stems at even intervals, but if you like an asymmetric wreath, you can do this on a side or along only the top or bottom.
And with a simple wire to hang it, its ready for the festooning. 
I didn't have to add any extra wires for the pepper berries.
When I was thinking about this wreath, I thought I might add these grapevine balls that I also spray-painted gold. But with my owl, it looked kind of weird so I jettisoned them for some other project.
I needed to add wire to the pinecone so I could wire it to the wreath. 
All I did was wrap the wire around the base of the pinecone and twist the wire ends to secure it and then wrapped the pinecone on the wreath.
I wired three pinecones and then "Henry", right in the center of the bottom. 
He looks happy here, but I hope he's not watching to see if I'm naughty or nice!
A lot of people would think this is done…but not me! Next up, ribbon!
I love dovetailed ends of my ribbons so here I folded my ribbon in half and then cut to make the perfect dovetail.
Okay, so its not actually perfect…
With my tails cut, I proceeded to make the bow. Because I like full bows, I usually cut a piece that's three arm lengths long. I found the center of my long piece of ribbon by holding it up and then I scrunched it in the middle.
Then, I made a loop and twisted it slightly to meet the center of the ribbon…
 …and matched the loop, trying to use the same amount of ribbon for each loop, all coming from my original center point.
Then I made four loops...
…and wired it together in the center, taking a little piece of ribbon to make the "button" (or center dot in a bow) and secured the wire around everything.
Here's the wreath with the pretty plaid ribbon wired at the top. 
And I'm not done yet!
I wanted to add some shimmer to match my glitzy pinecones, so I slid some satin ribbon in amongst my plaid bows and tied bows in and around them.
I love how, just like in a flower arrangement, adding a few elements here and there, adds depth to the whole presentation!
Next up, the doorway!
This is how it started. I love my grapevine balls that I placed on my planters. 
Here comes the fun stuff!
I found these cool DRIFTWOOD reindeer at the flower market and, well, they just hopped right in my car! I named them, "George" and "Gracie".
I used two plain wreaths and put them under my balls and I love the simple rustic splash of green. Then George and Gracie each got a collar I made tying some garland in a circle. And then I hung garland over the front door. Its a mix of fir, cedar and white pine that I think's more interesting than plain pine, but anything looks great.
And using any extra greens that I had from the garland, I started to build up my Nantucket Basket planter that I love, almost more than anything, because I can never get another one.
I originally planned to gild my magnolia leaf garland from my Thanksgiving decorations,, but I couldn't because the weather was SO bad and was going to stick around for a week and I had other things to do. Shocker! So, I hung the magnolia garland in front of the greens garland for some pretty texture and color variation.
Then, I set about adding ribbon. Oh, how I LOVE ribbon! I need help!
I made bows using both types of ribbon in each corner, purposely leaving the center of the doorway plain because I had the wreath on the door. I like long tails on these ribbons.
Its beginning to look a lot like Christmas…
Here's the progression…

Even George and Gracie had to get a little more dressy! Nothing says "hello" like a starfish!
Next up, my Nantucket Basket planter!
It doesn't look like much here, but as I went along, I just kept adding straggling pieces of greens.
And as it filled up, I added some more glitzy pinecones. Since the pinecones were going into a planter, I needed to wire them on a stick so they would stay in and not blow away (especially in the weather I was experiencing that day!).
After I wired the pinecone, I wired it to the stick. You can buy these sticks at any craft or garden store. Then I trimmed the stick so it would fit snugly inside the planter.
I only needed two pinecones here because its a smaller arrangement. And then I wired Henry's girlfriend, "Lola", into this arrangement and used some leftover bittersweet and wrapped it around. I made sure to peel off any yellow berry covers that were still part of the bittersweet so all I had were red berries.
And finally, I gave Lola a little sparkle with her own battery-operated Stargazer lights from Terrain.
Here's to making your home very Merry and Bright!