Sunday, December 29, 2013

Holiday Whirlwind

Often the holidays seem a blur with so much fun, decorating, food, activities and social events.  This year was no exception.  We welcomed our sister from Texas for the Christmas celebration, attended a ballet, visited the quaint shopping village of LaHaska, PA, saw the preschool version of the Christmas Story, attended several parties and cooked and baked and trimmed and rearranged and fixed and strung lights and wreaths and candles.  I love decorating my home this time of year more than any other.  

  Here's a brief photo montage, not in chronological order, of my divine family holidays.  Whatever is missing is lost in the hustle, bustle of activity.  
Sewing a Mrs. Santa Claus Christmas apron for my friend, Cheryl.

The prince of all Granddogs - Cobee Obee - on Christmas morning.

Decking the halls - our picture postcard Christmas tree.
A beautiful Christmas bouquet to adorn the table.
Loads of food, family and laughter.
Gorgeous light display at Peddler's Village.
Mother/daughter Sunday afternoon at The Nutcracker and a sushi lunch at the Bistro in Red Bank.  We enjoyed a bottle of wine reminiscent of our trip to Napa last Spring with Cait and Nancy.

Yes, the fun, the sparkle, the magic of the Christmas season is spectacular each year.  The blessings of family and friends fill us with warmth and love.  Just divine.

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Let It Snow! Let It Snow! Let It Dough!

My family has a sort of new tradition.  Whenever it snows, I bring out the bread machine and put up a loaf.  Who doesn't love the smell while it's baking and the warm bread comforts the belly while the snow falls, and feeds the hardworking shovelers.
A view from the front porch - looks like it's sticking.

A bread machine is such an easy way to bake bread.  While our fore-mothers struggled with kneading and resting of the dough, I just throw the ingredients in the machine.

I brought the bread machine up from the basement.  Last time I used it to make dinner rolls for Thanksgiving at Nancy's.

This nifty machine was a given to me by a friend who no longer had room to store it.  It comes with a recipe book.  You just add each ingredient in a specific order, wait a few hours and
Voila - a crusty loaf of home made bread.
Too much snow = too much bread, and that could be a problem if you know what I mean.

I really hate winter - the cold, and especially the wind, but the first snow is always special - a clean beautiful coat to freshen and renew the landscape.  I love when the sun comes out the next day and the blue sky contrasts the bare white branches.  A sparkle of beauty to uplift the winter blues.  

A shot from last year - a symbol of hope - the sun will shine.

Jen's Pinterest Party

Yesterday afternoon I was invited to attend a Pinterest party hosted by friend and fellow blogger, Jen St. Germain Leeman.  You can access her blog at as well as LIKE her Facebook page of the same name.  Jen is the daughter of a very good, long time friend of mine, Susie.  The party concept was so exciting - bring one of your favorite recipes from Pinterest and Jen provided simple crafts for her guests.

I wanted to bring her something as a little gift for visiting her home for the first time.  I was quite honored to be invited.  I checked the remaining herbs in my garden.  Yes, there was still some rosemary and a bit of thyme thriving well under some pine needles.  I made a bottle of infused oil (part extra-virgin olive and part canola) for Jen to enjoy with bread or my favorite way - oven roasted veggies.
In addition to the garden herbs, I added a clove of garlic and a dried bay leaf.  It is important to make sure all the herbs are completely dry or the oils will become cloudy and rancid.
I fudged my choice of Pinterest recipe.  I actually got the recipe from Pillsbury, but it is so cute, I wanted to bring it to share with my new friends.  

It looks very festive and contains broccoli, red pepper and a cream cheese spread.  I must say it tastes better crispy and straight from the oven, rather than wrapped in foil to keep warm.
Jen's new neighborhood is located in a lagoon community, so her seaside wreath was very welcoming as I entered her home.  The decorations were lovely, the food was delish and the company was exquisite.  

Jen's home was decorated with warmth and creativity.  I felt so comfortable meeting all new friends.
The food table displayed several options; I loved the chef salad on a skewer that Nancy made.  
The hot chocolate bar was a hit with kids and adults alike.  Lots of choices to add to the comforting beverage.
The dessert table -- Yum and Yay!

The food, however, was just a part of this great day.  The simple crafts and fun conversations added to the experience.  I had to leave early and Jen gave me a cute goody bag with simmering potpourri to enjoy over the holiday season.

So thankful for the experience -- new friends, good food, fun time.  DIVINE!

Saturday, November 30, 2013

A Non Traditional Thanksgiving

   The week before the actual holiday, we have a traditional Thanksgiving dinner complete with all the fixings and all the relatives, including grandparents, children, and some neighbors, too.  Since my sister lives basically right around the corner, this is a fun way for us all to get together.   It was especially celebratory this year, as we were celebrating an engagement, the announcement of a pregnancy with twins, and the continued health of the octogenarian and nonagenarian. The adult children are then free to spend their holiday with the divine families of their significant others, and we travel off to Nags Head for a somewhat non-traditional dinner.  My sister, who is a great cook and the major producer of the traditional dinner, joined our excursion and helped enjoy our seaside feast this year.

We always begin with a healthy starter - veggie crudites.

Some toasted flatbread with vegetable tapenade.

The wine of the day.

Favorite cosmo recipe - a real treat.

Steamed (and some grilled) oysters.

Pickled beets.

Main event - cornbread fried oysters and fried scallops, as well.

Locally grown sweet potato.

Steamy sauteed spinach.
I am a big fan of colorful plating.  We had orange, red, green, yellow and brown. 
Fall colors on a plate - yum - a veritable feast for sure.
Dinner always has a dessert to end - Nancy made pumpkin pie without a crust and I made a pumpkin loaf from a Weight Watchers recipe.

Just a dry spice cake mix and a can of pure pumpkin for a healthy alternative.

The crustless pie cracked a little during baking, but a spoon inserted for a taste test made the crack bigger.

Making a new holiday tradition - divine.  And I'm not really sure if eating oysters on Thanksgiving is such a new idea.  I'm pretty sure our Pilgrim forefathers and mothers used the fruits of the sea in that first feast as well as the fruits of the land and the sky.  Most important is the gratitude we feel for the abundance in our lives and the love of our divine family.

Monday, November 25, 2013

Sharing Joy With My Friends At Starbucks

Starbucks is the gold standard of coffee.  I am a bit partial, as Meredith is in management at the company, but I recently attended a coffee tasting/pairing and learned lots about coffee.  I was treated to a presentation by two aspiring coffee Masters in a somewhat local Starbucks store.  Did you even know Starbucks has a training  to become a certified Coffee Master?  

Jonathan and Joe presented wonderful information about where specific beans are grown, what flavor notes come from each region and what food pairs well with each.  Both were so knowledgeable.

This fold out chart made it easy to see the different regions of coffee growing.

I have to admit the tasting was the most fun part.  Tasting coffee, I learned, is similar to tasting wine.  There is a protocol for tasting - all coffee is freshly ground and brewed in French press containers, shown above. (I have a French press at home and the coffee is extra delicious when prepared this way).  First, we take in the aroma by covering the small cup with our hand and breathing in.  The taste comes next, and it is not just any taste - A Slurp.  That's right a slurp, to distribute the heat of the coffee as well as the different flavors around the palette.   Next we identified the flavors and located where on the tongue the flavor notes occurred.  Tim, an already certified Coffee Master, was especially adept at identifying and describing citrus notes, peppery notes, chocolate notes, etc. and where they were most prominent in the palette.

These small cups were used for tasting.  I never thought I'd enjoy black coffee, but in the specified manner of tasting, it was wonderful.

We accompanied the different blends with other foods - Evolution Fresh Orange Juice paired with Ethiopia to complement the citrus notes.  By the way, I know I sound like a commercial for Starbucks, but it was delicious orange juice.  Guatemala Antigua from Latin America was my personal favorite.  Was it the lemon, the chocolate or the soft spice?  I don't know.  It tasted very good with apple fritter from the pastry case.  I'm not really a dessert person, but the pairing was lovely.  Finally, we tasted Komodo Dragon Blend - very earthy in flavor and paired with cinnamon roll to complement the herbal notes.

Jonathan prepared these coffee travel tags summarizing each coffee and as a lovely memento of the entire experience.
I can't begin my morning without a cup of coffee.  It helps me wake up.  I have a new appreciation and a new way of tasting my coffee.  Jonathan opened the presentation by saying he loved coffee - it's what brings us together.  And yes, it brought us together that afternoon and I am grateful for the experience.  It was DIVINE!

Saturday, November 16, 2013

The Meeting of the Moms

Last week we had a lovely theme night at Timmy's house, and this Friday night was a special dinner, too.  Meredith and I got to meet Sabrina's mom, Sandi.  We're Facebook friends, of course,  but this was the real thing.  We both are so happy for the impending marriage of our children, and tonight was a lovely way to meet and get to know each other.

Here we are enjoying a glass of wine and a hug with Cobee before dinner.

Sandy brought some luscious wine for us to try - Chocolate Red Wine.  This wasn't the usual milky Choco-Vine we've had as a cordial, this was a red table wine with a hint of smooth chocolate in the finish.
Here's that bottle. Even Timmy, who usually likes a glass of white, enjoyed this taste.
Timmy and Sabrina were busy in the kitchen preparing a completely lovely dinner to mark the special occasion.
Seeing them happily work together is a good sign their marriage will be a real partnership.

We talked comfortably, exchanging kid stories, and lovingly complimenting their efforts.  We are excited about the planning of the big day and the wonderful things yet to come.  That's what real family is - past, present and future - rolled into memorable moments that touch the emotional heart inside.

 On the menu: salad, steak (chicken for Sabrina and Cobee), spaghetti with scampi sauce, and green beans.  So happy they are eating their veggies (said every Mom everywhere). The dining experience was like a five-star restaurant with the nicest host and hostess.  

The dining room table with lovely place settings.
Perfectly dressed Greek-style salad.  Loved the feta and the kalamata olives.
Filet mignon grilled to perfection on the outdoor barbecue.

Nanny's recipe for apple cake topped with pumpkin ice cream was a delicious ending - so another Mom was there in spirit.

And we all know that Cobee is part of the family.  He has his own chair at the table.
We ended the evening with a few rounds of this game, Spot It!  

A proper dinner, to mark a proper occasion.  Divine!

Monday, November 11, 2013

Theme Night - Engagement Food

Theme Night this month was at Timmy and Sabrina's house in Mays Landing.  We all drove down with our offerings for the theme of -- Engagement Food.  We weren't quite sure what that actually meant, but we put it all together as a cocktail hour/ wedding food sort of a theme.  There were even gifts for the happy couple.  The family is so excited for upcoming nuptials next October.  

Here are some of the awesome appetizers we enjoyed.

 Filled puffed pastry and tomato pie, a local favorite, as well as a goat cheese log encrusted with cinnamon and cranberries (yummy, Becky got it at Costco) and some baked tomatoes.  Not shown is crab dip and an array of bread dippers brought by Aunt Tracy and veggies (of course).

With Nanny's deviled eggs and so many starters that completed the cocktail hour portion of the party, we were very full before we even got to the luscious dinner.  

Louis, Sabrina's Dad, made this chicken escarole soup - so warm and comforting.

Those little white balls are mini-mozzarella to complement the salad bar offerings brought by yours truly.
Even though Meredith and Nick couldn't make it to the event, Meredith's wonderful idea of a mashed potato bar was a fun addition to the meal.

Timmy's specialty is chicken francais and it was absolutely delish.

No theme night is complete without loads of dessert.

Chocolate fondue with a variety of dippers.
Nanny's brownies went great with the two kinds of ice cream - or even dipped in chocolate.
Even Cobee got to enjoy his Frosty Paws.

It was a great time and we were happy to have everyone who hadn't yet met Sabrina's Dad to get to spend some time with him.

My favorite photo of the night.  You can put your own caption on this ha, ha!