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Seasonal Celebrations ~ Home for the Holidays

 

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Christmas is one of my truly favorite holidays because it’s so abundant, elegant and lush. It can also be contemporary, primitive country, hunting lodge rustic or childlike because it is a holiday that  can be expressed in a million wonderful and unique ways. It’s a fabulous opportunity to bring  fresh creativity to your table and have quite a lot of fun in the process. Just go on a shopping trip through your cupboards!  Many people have dishes, glasses and silver serving pieces that have been left to them; why don’t you bring them out and use them? It doesn’t matter if some of them are broken and the glasses don’t match. Spread everything that you could use out onto the table and take a look. Find a couple of unifying colors, in other words colors that can work with all of the bits and pieces that you’ve got and then choose a tablecloth, napkins and charger plates in those colors. A charger plate is what used to be called a service plate and it adds a bit of color underneath of the dinner plate .  It’s so easy these days to find charger plates in many solid colors and they’re very inexpensive. Choose a metallic color such as copper or gold if you want to dress up your tablesetting yet keep it feeling warm. Choose them in red and green if you want your table to be traditionally festive and remember; it’s a bit like layering an outfit one piece at a time all the way to the necklace and scarf.  

 

Don’t worry if you have glasses that don’t match. You can go to any store these days and find wine and water goblets in lovely jewel tone colors.  Why not set your table with every other goblet being a colored one. Alternate colored napkins and have a great time playing with color and texture on your holiday table.  Whatever you do, when someone mentions how beautiful everything looks, don’t ever say, “ Oh, thank you but it would have looked so much better if I hadn’t broken my wine glasses and had to replace them this way”. Remember that this is your style and you like it this way because matching everything is simply not as unique or as personal as you want your tables to be. 

 

You can be very creative with napkin rings. Some of the best are the little hard plastic or glass ones that you can put a bit of water into and a little arrangement. Go outside or to the local market and pick whatever is left of the fall herbs and flowers to arrange in them or go all out with some holly and ivy! Then pull the napkins through  the rings and set them onto your table. This is a beautiful way to bring some greenery to your place setting. You can also use elegant antique silver ones or you can get some pretty fabulous napkin rings adorned with Swarovski crystal. If you're  really creative you can go to the craft store and make your own out of ribbon, bits of crystal or pre made tassels. 

 

If you like a bit of sparkle, this is the place to use it on your table; napkins generally being very flat colors, can take a bit of glitter. Don’t forget candlesticks as they really add so much ambiance, especially when you mix the shapes and sizes.  Why don’t you dress those same candlesticks with herbs, flowers, fresh greenery or pretty silk ribbons? When it comes to candlesticks you should always use an odd number because it looks so much more balanced. Candles that are metallic are often used this time of year but I'm going to go on record as saying that I don't like them. They're rarely drip free and they  do tend to make a nasty mess. They also don't look nearly as pretty once they start to burn. Choose candles in complimentary tones and save the lovely  metallic colors  for chargers, placemats and candlesticks.

 

Although the cornucopia is traditionally a symbol of the Thanksgiving celebration,  I love to use them well into the December holidays because they make creating an abundant and gorgeous arrangement absolutely effortless. 

 

You can use a cornucopia at Christmas time in many ways. The traditional Thanksgiving use is to fill it with fruit, vegetables and flowers, but I like to use a cornucopia on my sideboard as the centerpiece for a wonderful cheese and fresh bread display. This is easy to do. Fill the cornucopia with kale leaves, slices of French bread and an assortment of crackers so that they are spilling out of the mouth of the horn. Then arrange several wheels of cheese very close to the bread along with several cheese knives. Add apples, pomegranates, pears and several pitchers of varying sizes filled with Christmas flowers and votive candles to the display and it will look sensational. You can do the same thing with freshly sliced vegetables, pate's and dips. 

 

I love to use tableware pieces in many different ways. Do you have an old fashioned three tiered tea tray that's just gathering dust in your cupboard? Pretend that you're in Williamsburg for the holidays and display it with  crystal glasses of differing sizes filled with holiday flowers and little bowls with holiday candy.  Why don't you take your grandmothers old teacups or demitasse cups and filled them with potted ivy, holly berries and festoon them with ribbons and little ornaments? This way everyone has a pretty little individual arrangement  of their own and the larger centerpiece can be low enough for everyone to converse across the table. Do you have dozens of mismatched silver teaspoons? Why don't you use them to serve a luscious bit of crab or lobster salad. Remember, there are no rules to be broken here, only a meal to be enjoyed together with family and friends.  

 

This year I hope that you’ll have fun with your holiday tables by looking at them with fresh eyes and allowing your inspirations to flourish! Do something just a little bit different and I promise that you’ll have just as much fun as your guests. Relax and enjoy being the star of your own party. When it comes to your creativity, the sky’s the limit! 

 

I hope that your holidays are filled with  peace,laughter & oh so much love!

 

 

 

 PIcture of Christmas Table is from an unknown source


31 Days of Halloween: Hot Skwash!

Every now and then I see something that really tickles my fancy! In this case it was these gorgeous velvet pumpkins from Hot Skwash! I was in Neiman Marcus last month and I saw a display of them that really caught my eye. I can't help but wonder how a few of these might look in my antique wooden salad bowl or tucked around my Williamsburg hurricane. They are expensive but well a girl can dream right? Or a crafty girl could try to make them on her own! All of those colors? All of those choices? This witch is going to see if she can wave her wand and make a few of them magically appear on her harvest table!

Big red velvet pumpkin hot skwash

Hot Skwash velvet pumpkins rasberry ice group

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Reaping the Harvest ~ Fresh Peaches, Barbecued Salmon, Loreena McKennitt & Thou

Sep 4, 2013

I love late night summer porch dinners and last night was no exception. The air was cool (I'm always wondering how a chill just automatically comes to be in the air on those first days of September! ) and the street was beginning to smell of woodsmoke.  There was gorgeous wild salmon on sale at Whole Foods so I bought two pieces.  I then marinated them in a bourbon , maple barbecue sauce ( easy, easy to do.. get your favorite hickory sauce and add bourbon, cinnamon and maple to taste!)   sauteed them until done and set aside.

The white peaches are still lovely so I sliced them and mixed them with some fresh berries, pineapple mint, basil , fresh stevia and then drizzled them with a dressing of agave and honey orange balsamic !

Zucchini steamed and then sautéed in buttermilk then sprinkled with herbs and Parmesan and some end of summer sweet corn completed the meal. Truthfully, this meal took no more than 30 minutes to create from start until finish. Simple ingredients like these prepared without fuss are sometimes the best medicine for a long and drowsy sort of day! A glass of Syrah and some Loreena Mckennit on my jambox made the evening so very sweet, then off to bed , snuggled under the blankets with the windows open wide to let in the cool, sweet autumn air!

 


Seasonal Celebrations: My Favorite Scents of the Season and one FABULOUS recipe!

 

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For me, the holidays are a blend of magnificent, fragrant sensations. Because I'm a cook, herbalist and perfume obsessed writer, the smells of the season tend to blend together for me in  a gloriously fragrant stew starting from Halloween through the New Year. There are so many fragrances that I love that are synonymous with this time of year, but I've tried today to keep it to 6 of my favorites...Not an easy feat!

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Most of you who read my musings know that from November the 1st until January the 2nd,  I will only wear Caron's magnificent Nuit de Noel. I love it because to me it smells like a crackling fire with a split of champagne and a bouquet of slightly warmed roses in a vase nearby.  Nuit de Noel is full of spicy amber, musk and a bit of oak moss… some may call it a chypre, but to me it's a true oriental. Last year I was gifted with a bottle of the vintage perfume that I ritualistically applied this year during this week of Christmas…1 drop on each wrist, one drop in the cleavage . It's just beautiful…an entirely different animal than the EDP and to be cherished. 

True to my word I put my Nuit de Noel away sadly every year come the second of January, but because I do so it's a bit of magic that's never lost it's ability to enchant  me year after year.

  Annick Noel

The second of my favorite holiday scents is  the Noel candle and home spray from Annick Goutal. This is possibly my favorite home fragrance  anytime of the year, but during Christmas it is just so beautiful to me. Several years back they actually discontinued it, but the hew and cry must have been intense because thankfully it wasn't gone very long! Noel is the classic balsam and pine smell of Christmas with a touch of fresh orange , spicy mandarin and just a hint of birch.  It gives me a lift all year round but never more so than during the holiday season when it is completely and understatedly appropriate, a refreshing walk in the forest after a soft snowfall. Cliche I know...but it's an accurate description, I promise.   

To me synonymous with the holiday season is a shopping  trip to New York City and  the roasted chestnuts that can be found on every other street corner is  my idea of simple and perfect fast food. A bag of them in my lap while snuggled up against my husband in a Hansom carriage is as far as I'm concerned the best time to be had in the world.  I love them…peeling them leaves a roasted , woody aroma lingering on my fingertips  and eating them is a sweet and sinful pleasure. These same roasted chestnuts and champagne are a perfect pairing and lets take it up a notch and talk about marrons glace! To make those you'll take those same roasted chestnuts and simmer them over and over again in a bath of simple syrup until the moisture in the chestnuts has been replaced by the sugar, leaving them crystalline and  aromatic.  Crumbled over fresh vanilla coconut milk ice cream and sprinkled with a bit of crystalline candied ginger and some fresh mochi paste you won't find a much more delightful and festive  and easily digestible dessert to enjoy with that Champagne.  

 

Every year on Christmas morning I would walk into my mothers kitchen where she would be making the same breakfast that she had cooked and eaten for almost her entire life. Creamed Chicken a la King on buttered toast points, egg strata with cheese and smoky bacon,  a fresh pecan roll , stewed fruit and a pot of coffee . Since she's been gone I make it every year (my family would riot if I didn't!)  and it's a wonderful way to spend my morning thinking of her. All of the aromas of that breakfast are wonderful, simmering onions and warm yeasty sugary  dough , but the stewed fruit is especially amazing. It's a simple recipe too, water and about 5 different sorts of dried fruit go into a saucepan along with a cup or two of mulling spices, two cups of brown sugar, a cup of sherry and a sliced lemon and orange. It simmers for hours until the whole thing is a syrupy , delicious mess of fruity, spicy goodness. There's always plenty left over because a little goes along way. Around New Years I'll put it back on the stove, add an onion or two and simmer it down some more and serve it with a pork tenderloin and some crispy roasted potatoes. 

 

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One Christmas over 20 years ago I found a pierced silver pomander at Saks Fifth Avenue. It was absolutely beautiful, but unimaginatively filled. I pictured it as an ancient medieval wonder, filled to the brim with Frankincense, myrhh, cinnamon, cloves and orange. So I filled it up with all of those things as well as some fresh rosemary, yarrow and sage from my own gardens, strung it a heavy silver chain and wore it around for days until I decided that the best place for it was a spot on my tree where it held a place of honor for many years until it mysteriously dissapeared several years ago. I am waiting impatiently to find another! 

 

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The last of my favorite holiday fragrances is perhaps the simplest one. It really can't be called Christmas if I don't have a batch of my mothers Christmas Chocolate Pears and fortunately every year since my mother died my dear friend who loves them as much as we do still makes them to bring to our annual Winter Solstice dinner!

This is possibly the simplest recipe in existence and it was first discovered by my father and me at a wonderful old Atlantic city restaurant  called  "The Knife and Fork". It took my mother years of writing Gourmet Magazine enlist their help in  persuading them to part with the recipe ( I remember when that issue of Gourmet came  because it was quite the celebration in my house!) and when she finally acquired it we were in heaven because it is just that good. This dessert is very easy to make, it's the ingredients that are important. You must have freshly whipped cream and you must use CANNED PEARS and a thin layer of  very good chocolate.  At The Knife and Fork they made these in individual servings in pretty little glass bowls but for a larger party you can layer the pears in a crystal bowl.  Then layer the whipped cream on top of them. Melt the chocolate, add a little bit of the canned pear syrup into it and then pour a thin layer of the chocolate over the top of the whipped cream and pears. Then chill and the chocolate will harden into a thin and delightfully bittersweet coating that cracks when you touch it with the spoon. Each mouthful is a decadent bite of pear, chocolate and whipped cream and is simply perfect. The fruity and floral nature of the pears, mixed with the silken whipped cream and the scent of perfectly bittersweet chocolate reminds me of my mothers holiday dinners, truly elegant yet comfortable affairs which always celebrated family first and Christmas second.  

I was looking for the little clipping from Gourmet that my mother saved for years, but them I'm came across this link on Food.com. So this is my New Years gift to you.....The original recipe for one of my families favorite holiday desserts! Try this one..It's easy and incredibly wonderful!

So what are the fragrances that say Happy Holidays to you?

 

 

 

An abbreviated version of the post can be found on my favorite Perfume Blog, Perfume Smellin Things!

None of these pictures are mine but are not easily attributable to any one source. 


Seasonal Celebrations: Blessed Solstice 2012!


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The longest night of the year is upon us and once again my sister and I are throwing our annual Winter Solstice bash. Will it be the end of the world? Will there be more snow? Will I have enough food for all of the friends we're expecting? Enough Champagne to toast the New Year? Enough of Caron's Nuit de Noel to carry me through to the end of the year? I’m truly not sure about the whole “End of the World “ thing ,  but I’m definitely hoping that it’s the end of an era. You’d have to be tucked somewhere in the deep dark wilderness to have not been affected by the tragic news this week.  It seems that America is experiencing her own longest night and I must admit that it’s difficult to not give in to the sadness.  Jim and I knew that somehow we needed to honor the little angels whose lives were lost last week in Newtown, but I wasn’t sure how to do it. Then very unexpectedly came an invitation from my niece to join a Facebook group called "Random Acts of Kindness".

 

Random acts of kindness are certainly not a new concept, but this one had a twist.  The founder of the group, a young mother herself, probably not older than 25 asked us each to do 27 random acts of kindness in honor of each of the lives that were lost last Friday.

 

She writes “I know that the tragedy in Newtown, CT touched many of us and are unable to give back like we would like to. But I proposethis! In remembrance of all the victims that we do our best in carrying out RANDOM acts of kindness! It could be as simple as opening the door for an elderly person, or buying lunch for the homeless...anything. Just remember more acts of kindness will only promote other people to want to do the same! This violence in this country needs to be put to an end and the only way we can put a minimum to that is being kind to one another! So, lets prepare to carry out 27 RANDOM acts of Kindness in remembrance of all the victims that lost their lives all too young!”

 

What a simple yet brilliant truth. You don’t have to have a lot of money to perform a random act of kindness, just the desire to make a difference. Random acts of kindness can be well thought out or they can be spontaneous! They are precious in that they are gifts of yourself, something that this world seems to need now more than ever. So on this Solstice eve I propose that we follow her example and think of something we can do that doesn’t necessarily cost a dime yet would make all of the difference to the receiver. Half the fun of doing this is to perform these acts towards someone who has no clue who you are or if you’re going to do something for someone you know don’t let them see you. I love the idea of writing 27 Christmas cards and putting them on anonymous car windshields like she did, who knows? The possibilities for kindness are endless! So I thank you Nicole Canales for although we have never met, I am so grateful to you for reminding me of the difference that I can make in this world. I encourage you to visit her group on Facebook simply called “Random Acts of Kindness”.  You’ll be very glad you did.

 

 To you my dear readers once again we have reached that spoke in the wheel of the year where I get to tell you just how much I appreciate you all. This funny little world that we inhabit together, this place where gorgeous scents, magical adventures and yummy foods blend to make the most sublimely passionate prose is one of my happiest places. I always wish that you could be at my Solstice Party, where I would feed you cups of luxuriously boozy and spicy eggnog and platefuls of the most glorious desserts that you’ve ever seen, some fruit, some chocolate… all splendid. Mostly I wish that I could just once wrap my arms around each of you and give back to you personally what you have given to me. As I light the fragrant Noel candles and the Yule fire this year I will be thinking of you all and making a wish for the most wonderful 2013 to come. As corny as it sounds, in the eternally sappy words of Jerry Maguire,  ”You complete me”. The comments you leave and the emails I receive let me know that from my little desk in my little corner of the world that I’ve made a difference to you and that’s not a little thing for a wordsmith like me.

And now a lullaby for all of you.....It's midnight here on the Northcoast. I'm wrapped in wind, the house smells like onions and sage and the snow is beginning to fall, but it looks like I'm still here and I'm glad that you are too. 

  

Wishing you all a Very Merry Solstice and I’ll see you all on the other side of 2012!   

With love from The Windesphere Witch (and her little cat Zoe!)

 

 

The picture of the house belongs to Beth Schreibman Gehring

Mary Chapin Carpenter video created by John Norvell

This post also appears today in Perfume Smellin Things