Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Wordless Wednesday: Daddy Feathersword

As parents, what we won't do for our children's birthdays...

Check out more WW here and here!

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Shindiglet: Book Club discusses The Prince of Tides

Shindiglet - Like a grand shindig, only a much smaller to-do. There are times, when even a small group of people getting together creates an occasion for celebrating with a theme. And if it is within my power, I always try to make that happen.

A book club meeting, for me, is such an occasion.

Over the weekend, I had a Book Club meeting. The book was The Prince of Tides, by Pat Conroy. This story's setting is largely in Coastal South Carolina. The main character's family were shrimpers. I was in charge of bringing the food. And you know how I love a theme...

Being a morning book club meeting, my challenge was to find an appropriate breakfast or brunch food that would tie in to the book's setting. Shrimp was necessary, I immediately decided. My thoughts then quickly headed back to last summer's vacation to Charleston, SC. After a long, hot day strolling the streets of Charleston, my family settled in to a refreshing seafood dinner at a very colorful restaurant. Looking at the menu, I landed on three magical words: shrimp and grits. I had never had grits before. And the cheese-laden, bacon-y sauce sounded too good to pass up. This particular restaurant, shaped the grits into cakes and fried them to a golden crisp, and ladled the shrimp & sauce over top of that. It was totally mouth-watering. I, however, did not think I could pull this off at 8:00 on a Saturday morning, but grits sounded like the ideal pairing with shrimp and breakfast. So I did a search for shrimp and grits casserole recipes, and found one that sounded worth trying: Cheesy Shrimp-and-Grits Casserole.

Photo courtesy of joyd at RecipeZaar.

The night before Book Club, I hit the grocery store to get my supplies. I wandered around forEVER looking for grits. Having never bought them before, I really didn't know where they would be located. I first looked by the rice. Nope. Then the ethnic aisle (why not?). Not there either. Okay, grasping for straws, I searched by the flour and corn meal. Notta! I almost gave up on the idea and started thinking of other things to take to eat. I was completely deflated with that line of thinking, however. I really had wanted to work out this theme! With a lightning moment of inspiration, I headed to one last place to look for the grits - the cereal aisle! Lo and behold, there were the variety of grits nestled next to the oatmeal selection. Happy day! So I finished up my shopping list and headed home to get started.

I prepared the recipe that night, and needed only to pop it in the oven for about half an hour just prior to leaving for the meeting the next morning. Fortunately, we were only meeting across the street at my neighbor's house, so it was still nice and hot and ready to be gobbled up when I got there! I did bring along a fruit salad (strawberries, red grapes, and blueberries tossed in a honey-lemon dressing), to round it out, and as an option for anyone who doesn't like or can't eat shrimp. A jug of Southern Brewed Iced Tea fit in nicely with this fare, too! I was proud of the result, which was not too overwhelming, but helped set the mood for the topic of discussion. We all allowed ourselves to be immersed in the way of life described in the book, and we didn't escape without a few goes at a southern drawl in our voices.

Tackle It Tuesday Meme
Go to 5 minutes for mom to read more tackles!

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Wordless Wednesday: Crown of Thorns

Want to see more? Click here or here.

Does it cost an arm and a leg?

Does it cost an arm and a leg to throw a happy shindig? Because I really don't have any of those to spare.

I recently hosted a Valentine's Day Ladies Tea at my home (for the 5th year in a row), and I've learned a thing or two since I first started. The truth of the matter is - yes, you can throw a good party without spending a fortune. For me, I've invested money in staple items that will be used every year and/or at other events - my china, for instance. Also, my table linens are burgundy, and look very nice when dressed up for Christmas dinner, too. And my pretty serving dishes were all handed down to me from my mother, and can all be used at any meal I'm hosting. So, the first rule is to be wise when investing money on more costly items. Make sure the more expensive stuff can do double duty or at least be used for a long time.

Valentine's Day is typically celebrated with flowers that are way expensive. Yes, the florists' prices do go up leading up to this holiday! There were two ways that I economized with flowers at my tea party this year. The first, was making your own centerpiece. I picked up a teacup and saucer from a local antique market for $2.50. I tapped my good friend (who was a florist before becoming a stay-at-home-mom) to put her mad skillz to work. She put together a lovely centerpiece for me, which would have only amounted to about $7-$8 for the cost of the flowers and supplies. My wonderful friend, however, would not let me pay her at all. The reason being, she said, is that her daughter (my daughter's best friend) often stays with us while my friend goes in to work around holidays. And this seasonal florist is in demand when holidays like Valentine's Day rolls around. She figured the centerpiece was a return favor. The moral of this story that I share with you, dear reader, is to see what kind of things for which and with which you can barter. Have a friend whom you think could help in some way with your party? Perhaps you can arrange a similar situation. The old I'll scratch your back, you scratch mine. I ended up with the perfect centerpiece for my tea party for a miniscule fraction of the cost I originally had budgeted, and coming from my friend, it was so much more meaningful. She was also a guest at my party, and I made sure to let everyone else know that she made it! Public praise is a good thing.

The other way I economized with flowers, was to visit a nearby greenhouse to select fresh pesticide-free flowers to use in the menu and for decorating the food and table. The owner had quoted a cost of 15 cents per flower when I originally inquired about obtaining the flowers. But when I went to pick them up a few days before my party, she was so happy to share the details about her trade and appreciative of my planned use of her lovely flowers (and charmed by my two year old, I think!), she just kept snipping away and giving me ideas on how to use which... she said, "I've lost count" When she had to go after another clam shell container to hold the lavender she was snipping, I also lost count. I was stunned when at the end she said, "It comes to $5." Now, I'm sure I had more than $5 worth of flowers, so I was delighted. I used edible flowers in two different foods at the party, and used fresh flowers to decorate the cake, and used the lavender sprigs as garnish. The tea party's theme was "floral flourish" and boy, did that ever shine through!

No tea party would be complete without tea, right? I happened to pick up some tea at a very unlikely place - the annual state farm show where I live. We take our girls there every year to appreciate the fun that livestock and 4H-like activities can bring to a child. The Dairy Council's milk shakes are always there to tempt me, too! I hadn't even composed my tea party invitations at this point, but I was pleased to no end when I found a vendor selling a large variety of teas at the farm show. I picked enough lavender tea for the party for less than $3. While browsing, I also found handmade earrings that were little teapots. Well, I couldn't resist! So, the best tip I can offer after this experience is to keep your eyes open for party finds, even if the party isn't going to happen right away. You can get great deals by shopping sales and special events!

That brings me to the final nugget of information I want to share on this topic - keeping your eyes open for deals throughout the year, and watch for coupon savings, too. After Valentine's Day, I always hit the sales to buy things that are marked down. I store them, and other things I pick up on sale or clearance the entire time between one party ending and the next one being planned. So about a month before the next party, I can pull it all out, take stock, and then see what else I need to find to fill it out. Places like Bath & Body works often has great coupons (you can find these on the deal sites) that can stretch your dollar pretty far. I picked up items from B&BW throughout the year with coupons when I had them, and then shopped their semi-annual sale, and I was set for prizes for the games I planned.

Having said all of this, there may be the occasion when you find something that you just want to splurge on that is truly an indulgence. I hope that every so often you allow yourself to do that. My indulgence this year was a gigantic diamond ring. No, I'm not talking about something I could actually wear on my finger, but instead, something more along the lines of a paper weight. I saw one of these things many years ago and thought it was hilarious. So when I happened upon one just days before my tea party for $4.99, I knew I had to have it. No, it wasn't necessary, but it sure did spark some funny conversations when made part of my table decor!

I hope that this information demonstrates that you truly can throw a party without having to drop tall cash!

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Tackle it Tuesday: What to do with the leftover lavender?

Tackle It Tuesday Meme
So my big tea party is over, and there are still a few things lingering about that have not been put back into storage - some of the china, for starters. I'm tackling that today, but that's not big thing. What I was really worried about was finding some use for the leftover flowers. I added the droopy blooms to the compost bin, but I still had many sprigs of lavender left over that I was sure could be of better use than compost fodder. I Googled and found several sites detailing the drying process of this fragrant plant. I decided that's what I'd do. So my tackle today is to arrange the sprigs of lavender to let them dry. Although I don't have much in the way of buds (it was more the greenery that I used for the table decor), I read that the dried leaves work in sachets and eye pillows. Lavender mixed with rice (or also salt?) make wonderful heating pads. But those decisions and tasks will be left for another tackle. For now, I'm happy to have the sprigs of lavender drying. I'm thinking of using the end products as part of next year's tea party favors. It would be kind of nice to have it recycled as such.

Visit 5 minutes for mom for more Tackles!

Monday, February 9, 2009

5th Annual Valentine's Day Ladies Tea: Re-cap

Ahhhhhhh.... the satisfaction of accomplishment! Yesterday's tea party went over very well. That's not to say we didn't experience a couple of blips along the way, though.

There was one mix-up with the first activity, which was the flower meanings match game. I inadvertently copied and distributed the game with the meanings right beside the flower names. Duh! I can't believe I didn't catch that error before it was too late. But my guests are pretty easy going and indulged me by reading through the many meanings and talking about how interesting some of them were. Thank goodness I still had two other activities planned!

I also had a last minute cancellation due to illness, so we ended up with an odd number, making the Complete the Lyrics game have uneven teams. The teams were pretty evenly matched, as it turned out, and the difference in correct answers was only one, so the margin of victory was very slim. When it was time to select prizes for this game, everyone kept what they originally opened - no prize swiping occurred!

The consequences of the heart game went over very well, with lots of laughs. Originally, the prize for this game was going to be taking home the centerpiece. However, when my friend brought it over to me, I fell in love with it, and I couldn't part with it. That meant the consequences game was just going to be a filler activity - no prize. But since the flower meaning match game didn't work out, I moved that game's prize to the consequences game. So, it all worked out in the end.

We enjoyed tea and scones as the first course and nibbled on a seed & dried fruit snack mixture that was on the table upon arrival of the guests. I decided to lay a snippet of lavender on the saucer aside the tea cup, which I thought looked very pretty. I put the lavender snippets in the seed mixture bowls, too, as garnish.

Everyone seemed to like having the menu at the table so they knew what was in store. It helps to judge how much to eat along the way if you know to save room for something at the end! The primroses looked so pretty in the salad, I regret not taking a picture. Also, I didn't stop and take the time to photograph the panna cotta when that was served. Drat! They were quite lovely plated with raspberries and quartered lychees. And the taste combination was beautiful. It is a very creamy dessert, with cream and mascarpone cheese being the main ingredients. The rose water added a touch of delicacy. As I needed to remove the fresh flowers before cutting the layer cake, I did pause to take some pictures at that point.

Before the guests left, I gave them their favor box and sent most of them off with a goody bag filled with homemade heart-shaped peppermint patties and lemon poppy seed cookies. (OK, I let a few guests leave before I remembered to have them fill their goody bag - whoops!)

I dare say that everyone had a good time, and I was satisfied overall. As always, a few things were learned along the way, which help make the next event even better.

I suppose the next shindig I'll be planning is a dinner centered around curry ketchup. A coworker of my husband brought him some curry ketchup from a specialty shop, as my husband had been telling him about having it with sausages in Germany. So we're hoping to have the coworker and his wife over to give it a sample. A much smaller affair than my tea party, but I do so love the German theme...

Friday, February 6, 2009

Delightful, Wonderful, Cheerful, Edible Flowers

I just came home from a short drive to a pesticide-free greenhouse that is serving as my supplier for the edible flowers I'm using at the tea party. What a delightful trip to make in dreary February! With my two-year-old in tow, we walked up and down the aisles of the greenhouses, allowing our senses to be cuddled by the sweetness of the floral bliss. The charming owner led us around snipping here and there, creating a collection of lovely and aromatic flowers for us. I'll admit, I was a little overwhelmed. There were so many choices, but we narrowed it down to shades of pink, and appropriate sizes for the purposes the flowers would need to serve. I ended up with stock, english daisies, snapdragons, dianthus, mini-carnations, and primrose. And THEN, just before we were ready to leave, the owner snipped a bit of lavender for my daughter to sniff. When I told her we were having lavender tea, she suggested taking some snippets of lavender, too. "You could float these in the tea if you like," she suggested. YES! Or even laying aside the teacup on the saucer, I say. It's just so pretty! How surprised and pleased was I when she told me my total was $5?! Happy day. :)

Before we left, I had to take a picture of this awesome plant, called Crown of Thorns. It's name is self-explanatory. Wow.

Valentine's Day Tea Party: Final Details

The tea party is set for the day after tomorrow. I'm excited to see that things are all coming together nicely. I've really done a good job of budgeting my time, which has not always been the case in the past. I still have two days packed full of things to do, but I'm not overly stressed or exhausted - yet. :)

I found a pretty swirly-like scroll frame, which will display the menu and double as a table decoration. I also have two small flower pots with pale pink silk roses and greens to dress up the table. My friend is working magic with fresh flowers and the tea cup and saucer I picked up recently. I don't make place cards, because everyone already has their usual seats that they migrate to upon arrival. If I can think of something fun next year, though, I might implement them just for the fun of it. So, those things, along with the burgundy table linens and my china pattern, should make for a pretty table setting. I realized that if I tried to do much more, there wouldn't be room for the food or table space for the games I have planned.

The prizes are all ready, as are the party favors. I used Valentine's decor take-out boxes to hold the trinkets I picked up. I ended up with six items in the boxes. They are: an empty treat bag (rolled up and tied with a twisty) which the guests will be invited to fill with the cookies/candy I will offer at the end of the party, a 'Cupid's Dart' flower seed packet, a few pieces of tea flavored candy, a small decorative hanging heart, a whimsical flower-themed magnet that I made, and a love-themed note pad. A CD will also be given to each guest that contains the love songs used during the Complete the Lyrics Game (see below).

I have my menu finalized and have already begun some of the prep work on a few of the items. Here is the menu:
First Course
Cherry & Almond Scones
Blueberry Scones

Second Course
Chicken Salad Sandwiches
Radish Poppy Seed Sandwiches
Strawberry & Cream Cheese Sandwiches
Salad with Edible Flowers
Deviled Eggs

Third Course
Rose Water Panna Cotta with Raspberries and Lychees
Vanilla Raspberry Layer Cake

Tea Selections
Lavender Herbal Tea
American Classic Black Tea 
I am going this afternoon to pick up the edible flowers. I am planning on crystallizing a few today in hopes that they'll turn out well enough to go on top of the cake. I am also using the flowers for the cold drinks. I am going to freeze them in ice cubes so they'll look pretty floating in the water glasses.

As far as games, I have the following three planned: Consequences of the Heart, Flower Meanings Match, and Love Songs Complete the Lyrics. Here is how we'll go about playing each one:

Consequences of the Heart - Give each person a sheet of paper numbered 1-10 (all have a small heart shaped hole punched in the bottom corner except for one) and a pen. Instruct everyone to write at the top (1) “one or more adjective”. Instruct everyone to fold the paper down over that word so that what has been written cannot be seen. Instruct everyone to pass their paper on to the right, but they cannot look at what was previously written. Instruct everyone to write at the ‘new’ top (2) “the name of a gentleman”. Fold and pass as before. Write (3) “one or more adjective”. Fold and pass as before. Write (4) “a lady’s name”. Fold and pass as before. Write (5) “a place to meet”. Fold and pass as before. Write (6) “something you could give”. Fold and pass as before. Write (7) “an expression”. Fold and pass as before. Write (8) “another expression”. Fold and pass as before. Write (9) “a consequence”. Fold and pass as before. Write (10) “an expression”. Read a sample Consequences of the Heart story that you prepare ahead of time (I played it myself just to see how it would work). Provide the “script” to the first volunteer reader who is to read the poem they were left holding. Everyone takes a turn. When all have been read, ask guests who has the paper without the special marking on it. That person wins the centerpiece.
Here is the "script": The [#1] [#2] met the [#3] [#4] at/in [#5] . He gave her [#6] and said to her, “ [#7] ”. She said to him, “ [#8] .” The consequence of the heart was [#9] . And the world said, “ [#10] .”

Flower Meaning Match - Provide guests with a list of flowers, set across from a list of meanings of flowers. Also rose color meanings. Guests must match the meaning to the appropriate flower/rose color. The person with the most correct wins. In order to make up this game, I researched online the meanings of flowers and picked the ones that I thought had some logic to them. Some of them will be tough, but is a game after all, and I don't want everyone to get them all right! I also have a couple of tie breaker trivia questions set aside just in case.

Love Songs Identification – Divide table into two teams. Each team is given a piece of paper and a pen. Snippets of 20 songs are played as cues. After each snippet is played, the team must decide what lyrics come next. The team with the most points at the end wins. The losing team gets to choose among the wrapped prizes and open them, but then the winners get to select from what has been opened, or they can open a new gift.

I have some more prep work to do in the kitchen today and tomorrow. That should leave me with only a few things to do on Sunday. The tea party is set for 1:30, so I shouldn't be too rushed.

If you're reading this and are planning your own Valentine's Day Tea Party, I encourage you to comment about the fun things you're doing. I truly love to hear the details!

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Rose Water Panna Cotta

I have tried to find an online version of the exact recipe I'm using to make the panna cotta, but to no avail. If you have access to the Martha Stewart Living magazine, it is the dessert of the month for the February 2009 issue. But since I've mentioned it so often here, I wanted to provide at least one link to give the gist of what I am talking about. I'm really looking forward to making it and giving it a taste!

Tackle it Tuesday: Out of the Ordinary Shopping

Tackle It Tuesday Meme

Ever since I decided to make Rose Water Panna Cotta for the dessert at my Valentine's Day tea party, I knew I would have to go out of my way to find a couple of ingredients: rose water and lychees. I did see a recipe online on how to make your own rose water, but it sounded too complicated, and I would still have to go out of my way to find pesticide-free rose petals. No thanks, I'll just buy some! After doing some research, I located a few stores in the area where I might find these two out of the ordinary items.

I first visited an asian market place called Little Saigon. There, I found the lychees. I bought more than enough for the panna cotta recipe, because I found loads of lychee cocktail recipes online, too! The second stop I made was to India Groceries & Fashions. I found the rose water there. Yay! I felt ready to make the panna cotta!

In addition to the food items, I was also in need of a teacup and saucer with which to make a floral centerpiece. It just so happens, my friend and neighbor is a florist, and she offered to make this for me. That will really help bring the cost down. I went to a nearby antique market place to prowl around for one with a pretty floral design. I saw many priced $12 and up, and a few for $5, but then I found one priced at $2.50, and I thought it was just perfect!

I tackled that out of the ordinary shopping list, and I was happy!

See more tackles here.