December in Photos

★ Treated myself to the Shoshanna Amulet from BaubleBar to wear for our annual Eggnog & Dessert party after seeing it here.  I adore this statement necklace.

★ Put the finishing touches on our living room tree and on the blue tree in the hallway.  The lights make me so happy.

★ I’ve been saving this book for December – the perfect book to curl up with on a chilly winter night (it’s My True Love Gave to Me).

★ Lots of baking –  chewy chocolate ginger cookies and orange cranberry mini loaves for our party; cannoli cheesecake for Christmas dinner (my first cheesecake!).

★ Eric took me to an amazingly beautiful display at the Dallas Arboretum of the Twelve Days of Christmas.

★ Participating in a fun book photo challenge and remembering some books from earlier in the year.

★ A holiday isn’t a holiday without a holiday mani!

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November in Photos

Nov in Photos

November started off with a bang!  The first Saturday I attended a book signing for Christina Lauren for their latest book in the Beautiful series – Beautiful Player.  I’ll have a post up soon on the series and the book signing too, but I finished Beautiful Player shortly after getting it at the signing!  And speaking of books, I also got to go see Catching Fire the night it came out in the theatre – loved it!

I spent some time during the month looking at my in progress craft projects, working on some, and planning for some new things.  One of my big projects towards the end of the month was working on finishing some Christmas ornaments I’d stitched.

Of course, one of the things I was excited about was visiting a local camera store and checking out a variety of camera bags in preparation for my trip to Germany/Paris.  I loved the bright yellow of the one in the photo, but I ended up going with something slightly different.  Post to come on that as well and why I chose what I did.

As the holidays approached, I celebrated with a super blingy manicure – I used my new polish, When Monkeys Fly, over a gold I already had on hand and wowza!!  Eric and I made apple pancakes for breakfast, which is our tradition for Thanksgiving morning, and then watched the parade.  We went to my mom’s for our cozy Thanksgiving dinner and it was really a nice, relaxing day.  So much to be thankful for!

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October in Photos

October in Photos 2

So….October.  Is it perhaps an indication of how the last few months have been that I’m just now posting about October?  October is always a crazy crazy month for us.  We see to try to cram in so much stuff in October it leaves my head spinning.  I think I still have photos from last year’s whirlwind October that need editing, or blogging, or…something.  This October was no exception to the rule – we kept it jam-packed, but were able to enjoy some fun things.  But, I know I’m playing catch up a bit with some of the things I intended to post last year – but I’m starting where I left off and my intention is to stay more in sync with my blogging because it’s important to me.

I started off October with a ton of excitement and inspiration.  I really want to take some time and try to capture what really hit me, and some of the things that spun out of that, but for now I’ll just focus on capturing the month itself.  One of the things that I tapped into was Lara Casey and her newsletter.  I’d been following her on Instagram for a little while, but I finally subscribed to her newsletter in October.  The theme for the month was Clear October.  She wrote in her newsletter about having a clear mind and really being intentional about the time before the holidays and the end of year craziness sets in.  It really struck a chord with me too – I wanted not only to have clear intentions and clear ideas about my plan for the remainder of the year, but it also meant a clear heart.  I’ve always been a firm believer that you have to make room in your life for what you want – if your life or your space or your heart doesn’t have the space to receive God’s gifts, how can you expect your prayers to be fulfilled?  In an effort to do my own clearing in October, I started off the month by cleaning off the white board in my office.  It literally took me about an hour.  There were notes and diagrams on there that had been there so long I could not get them erased and I had to scrub at the words to remove them.  My Instagram photo shows my clean and clear whiteboard – out with all the “junk” that no longer serves me and opening up a space to receive.

The rest of the month was, like I said, jam-packed with all sorts of things.  We went to the State Fair, as usual, and I finally got to see the Chinese Lantern Festival at night.  It was just as stunning as I’d imagined!  Plus we got to see the Kildares play, which is always fun.

I spent a good amount of time reading in October, particularly the Beautiful Bastard series by Christina Lauren.

I did some baking – pumpkin bread and then my very first Italian Cream Cake for Eric’s birthday.  We had amazing Thai food for his birthday dinner at one of our favorite local spots.

I finished up my memorial sampler for my dad at the end of September, and finally blogged about it over at my other blog.

I got a little “on the spot” award at work for the work I did on a project, and what better way to celebrate than with leopard pumps?  You can’t go wrong with leopard.

We did some projects around the house, including installing some shelves in our media room to contain some of the things that came from my mom’s house when my dad died.  We also bought a new rug and pouf for the living room.  I am so in love with this rug, it is not even funny.  My absolute dream rug – and Eric was won over by it too!

And we also spent some time with my niece in October.  As part of that whole idea behind making room in your life, we decided that we definitely needed to make some room in our lives to spend more time with her.  She came and spent the night with us, Eric made her pink pancakes for breakfast and we watched The Breakfast Club.  She loved it!  I also worked with her on designing her Halloween costume.  This year she went as Sally from Nightmare Before Christmas – and the dress I worked on tirelessly was a huge hit!

As usual, October was a great, busy month.  I’m looking forward to sharing November with you!

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Honoring Her

Easter never used to be more than a holiday for me.  As I mentioned in my last post, over the past few years it has been made more special by spending our honeymoon in Rome for Easter.  Eric’s love of family and traditions has also changed my perception of it, and we celebrate with a special meal and his special cake.  But, this year things seemed to all fall into place to change me at some deep level, to focus on the true meaning of the days leading up to Easter.

On Good Friday, Eric’s grandmother passed away.  And suddenly, we were faced with mourning this amazing woman who had helped to shape Eric into the man he is today.  The past few years have been so full of loss, but somehow this was different.  In the midst of our sadness and grief, we were presented with the message of Easter and for me at least, it brought some comfort.

While I had intended to make Eric’s special cassata cake for him, because of the tradition his Grandmother started, once we got the news on Friday I knew that making Easter special this year was something we both needed.  When I did my last post and posted the photo of my dining room table decorated for the holiday, it reminded me that other than Christmas, I have done zero holiday decorating in several years.  So, I decided that I wanted to make this Easter as special as possible for both of us.  So, on Saturday, while Eric was gone I dug through my holiday decorations and did a little decorating around the house.  Just a few touches, since I knew it wouldn’t be up for very long.  I was so happy to see our dining room all dressed up for Spring.

I especially love my little glass bunnies.  I think I got them from Williams Sonoma years and years ago.  But, aren’t they cute?

And I’m glad I managed to get a photo of how pretty everything looked before the hoodlums got up on the table and ran off with an egg ornament in their mouths and proceeded to bat them around the house.

After I got the decorating finished, I got started on making the cassata cake.  My recipe reminded me that it’s good to make the pound cake a day ahead so that it is completely cooled before I try to put the filling between the layers and frosting it.

On Sunday morning, I got started on finishing the cake.  I made the filling and popped it in the fridge to chill so that it was easier to spread.  Then I got started on making the whipped cream frosting.  Homemade whipped cream is just the best, isn’t it?  Reminded me of my chocolate bread pudding – I need to make that sometime soon.

Once I had my filling and frosting made, I cut my poundcake into layers and then brushed them with rum.  I have actually forgotten this step before, so this time I made sure that I noted it on my recipe ingredients.

Once I had the cake assembled, into the fridge it went so that the ricotta filling and the whipped cream frosting could set up.  Then it was time to make dinner.  Eric made the fabulous Moroccan lamb burgers we’d agreed on for Easter dinner, from a recipe courtesy of our friends in Rhode Island.  We opened a bottle of Barefoot Moscato for dinner and it was a delicious counterpoint to the spices in the burgers.  Everything was so good!

And after dinner we dove into dessert.  I sprinkled the top of the cake with some semi-sweet chocolate shavings.  I loved the finishing touch it added.

Here’s a little view of the cake once we’d sliced into it.  So so good!  And don’t you love the little bees on the table runner?

It was a beautiful Easter Sunday, made all the more special because I felt like we were honoring Grandma’s life by celebrating with a wonderful meal, a beautiful table, and time with each other.  She will be truly missed.

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Preparing for Easter

Egg Tree
This time of year is always special for Eric and I.  Our wedding anniversary is at the beginning of April and we spent our honeymoon in Rome over that Easter weekend.  It was the first Easter Mass for Pope Benedict XVI.  With this Easter being the first for the newly elected Pope, it brings back some memories for us.  Eric and I have also been watching The Bible on The History Channel, and it’s been an excellent conversation topic for us in these weeks leading up to Passover and Easter.

I haven’t been very inspired to do any holiday decorating around the house since Christmas, and the two boys with their kitten antics make me think twice about what I put out.  But, after looking through some old photos, I found the one above of our Easter table and decided I would really like to have a special table setting for our Easter dinner.

And one of the traditions that we have is  preparing a special Italian cake for Easter.  Eric’s grandmother used to bring a cassata cake from the Italian bakery for Easter every year when he was growing up.  When Eric and I got married, I decided that I wanted to recreate this cake from Eric’s past for him.  Not as easy as it sounds.  Cassata cake, I’ve found, can be interpreted in several different ways.  So, over a series of Easters and birthdays, I tried out a number of recipes.

One of the first I tried was for a Sicilian cake that seemed to be similar to a cassata cake.

It was a two layer sponge cake with ladyfingers around the edges, and topped with walnuts, chocolate chips and candied cherries.  Pretty good, but not anywhere close to Eric’s memories.  Plus, with the ladyfingers and the topping, it was a rather labor intensive cake to make.

So, we refined our definition of what he remembered and I ended up cobbling several recipes together to try for my next attempt.  Eric had told me that the cake of his dreams was a loaf cake, like a pound cake.  So, I took a Martha Stewart pound cake recipe and started with that.

Notice the yummy vanilla that Eric’s mom brought us from Mexico?  Love that stuff!  Anyway, the Martha recipe was a total bust.  There was so much butter in this batter that when it was cooking, you could see the cake swimming in a sea of butter.  I’m all for butter, but this was ridiculous.  And the cake itself was not soft and moist, but surprisingly crunchy.

Eric also remembered that the filling between the layers was a lot like cannoli filling.  So, I borrowed a recipe for cannoli filling (ricotta, chocolate chips, etc.).  That, at least, was pretty straightforward.  I used the mini chocolate chips and mixed them in with the ricotta filling.

And then we got to the frosting for the cake.  Eric said it was pretty close to the frosting his mom uses on his usual birthday cake, which is a whipped cream frosting (icing?).  I hit her up again for her recipe and this also was pretty straightforward.  I think it’s just heavy cream, sugar, cream of tartar.  And it makes a ton!

And the final product Eric deemed pretty darn close to his memory.  So, I made several notes, including a note to self to try a different pound cake recipe because the Martha recipe was a big yuck.

And when I made that very first Sicilian cake, it called for brushing the layers of spongecake with rum.  So I added that in this attempt as well.  It adds a little extra depth of flavor in the cake.

I’ve made the cake a couple more times since this initial try and refined it over the last few years.  I’ve changed to a pound cake recipe from Cook’s Illustrated, which is very good.  And I’ve started making the cake itself the day before, and it makes it a little easier to assemble the next day.  I’ve also cut the filling and frosting recipes in half, because I seriously ended up with enough for a second cake.  I’ll be making cassata cake for Easter Sunday this weekend, and I’m looking forward to it since I haven’t made it in a while.  I’ll be sure to share how it turns out!

We’re also planning on having our Moroccan Lamb Burgers on Easter as well, because Eric knows that’s about the only way I will eat lamb.  So, I’m looking forward to those – something else we haven’t had in awhile.  Sounds like I’ll have a busy next few days getting everything ready for Easter, but I’m looking forward to it.  And as always, it’s such a special time for us as a precursor to our anniversary, so it deserves to be done right!

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January in Pictures

January 2013

For 2013 I thought it would be fun to start a new tradition at the end of each month and share some photos from the previous month – just as a little look back into my days.

January was definitely a month for refocusing and it seemed to spark my creativity too, since I spent a lot of time working on some crafty projects.  I took a day off work at the beginning of the month to spend with Eric and my niece and go see the Trains at Northpark.  We, of course, had to stop for gelato.  Work has been extra difficult this month, so there were several nights I came home in need of comfort food – like the grilled cheese sandwich Eric made for me.  I did try to take time for myself though, by leaving early one Friday afternoon and going to the quilt shop to pick up my Hex on the Beach kit and a few fabrics I fell in love with.  And we even had snow!  Last Saturday morning I had a couple of hours to kill between my hair appointment and my eyebrow appointment, and I spent that time curled up in a comfy chair, sipping Starbucks and reading.  Decadent!

My last mani of the month was the perfect transition into February – Essie All Tied Up with an accent nail of OPI Berry Berry Broadway.

Looking forward to seeing what February brings!

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Summer’s Bounty – Tomato Tart

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Several years ago, I spent a lot of time watching Martha Stewart’s show on tv and had a subscription to Living that I poured through every month. This was all pre-jail time, not that the jail rigamarole had anything to do with my falling a little bit out of love with Ms. Martha. But, one might find my fascination with all things Martha to be a little bit puzzling. Why? Because 1) I don’t cook and 2) I don’t garden. However, I am crafty and like to decorate and entertain. And to be honest, I can cook and bake, I just rarely am inclined to do so. Luckily I am blessed with a husband who is so inclined. So, occasionally my delusions of grandeur brought on by a Martha moment sometimes end up with me purchasing some beautiful rectangular tart pans from Williams Sonoma with visions of whipping up a masterpiece of tarty goodness. I had seen a tomato tart Martha did some years ago, and since then have wanted to recreate it.

A couple of weekends ago my good friend, Jennifer, came over for dinner. I wanted our dinner to be something summery and light. And I immediately thought of the tomato tart (read: I got a bee in my bonnet to make something). Eric bought some lovely heirloom tomatoes at Central Market that morning for me to use in my tarts. They were so beautiful!

And in case you’d like to make a tomato tart of your own, here’s the Martha recipe (with my changes)…

Tomato Tart

Pre-heat oven to 400 degrees

2 pre-made pie crusts (I made them work for the rectangular pans)
Spread roasted garlic evenly over the dough
Place Fontina Cheese over the roasted garlic (I just cut irregular slices of the cheese rather than grating)
Arrange the sliced tomatoes on top of the cheese

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Season with salt and pepper
Add more thin slices of Fontina on top
Drizzle with Olive Oil

Transfer to oven
Bake until crust is golden and tomatoes are soft but retain their shape
(about 45 to 55 minutes)
Transfer to a wire rack to cool for 20 minutes

Serve warm

Mmm…these were so good. And they fit perfectly with our meal. The perfect summertime companion.

Tomato Tart Leftover

And good as leftovers too!

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