Sunday, December 29, 2013

"Call the Midwife" Holiday Special

I just discovered some exciting news. The wonderful British television series Call the Midwife is kicking off its third season (set to start in March, 2014) with a Holiday Special which will be airing tonight on PBS. I adored the first two seasons and think it is one of the best shows to come out of Britain in recent years. Though the third season doesn't start until March, this holiday special acts as a sort of bridge between seasons two and three. Anyway, if you aren't home to watch this, be sure to record it to enjoy later since the reviews from Britain (where it has already aired) are excellent. It sounds like some very heartwarming and festive happenings are going on at Nonnatus House. This show about the nuns and midwives of Nannatus House providing free maternity care to the impoverished women living in the East End of London in the 1950's is a real gem.  I love hearing Vanessa Redgrave's voice open each episode... Go here to read more about Call the Midwife. Enjoy!

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Merry Christmas!

Wishing you a joyous holiday!

May it be filled with the beauty of a holiday table

The sweetness of favorite desserts

The glow of candlelight

The comfort of family traditions

The childlike wonder of a gingerbread house

The coziness of a Christmas fireside

The warmth of a cup of good cheer

The company of good friends

The enchantment of a winter wonderland

And peace

"I heard the bells on Christmas day
Their old familiar carols play
And wild and sweet the words repeat
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!"

Best wishes for a very Merry Christmas and a joyful holiday season!

Photo one by ST, photos two, three, four and seven via here, photo 5 and 8 via here, photo 10 via here
All others via Pinterest

Monday, December 23, 2013

Merry, Merry Happenings

Another cozy and festive afternoon getting ready for Christmas. The short days (Saturday was the winter solstice), the festive decorations and the cold weather made staying in and taking care of holiday details very appealing. And sometimes you find a little Christmas magic along the way.

 Wrapping presents, sending out cards and planning holiday menus were top priorities

Trying out a new color scheme for Christmas was also fun. I love the blue and white dishes with the red roses and winter greenery.

Baking cookies (this will happen on Tuesday): Gingerbread men and Chocolate Crinkles are a must each year. These photos are from last Christmas.

Chocolate Crinkle Cookies

Trying a new recipe -- Peppermint Fudge from The Farmhouse Inn in Sonoma, California. This hotel in the Russian River Valley is one of my favorite places to stay. Go here for the recipe. I'll let you know how it turns out.

And making special discoveries. Recently I was looking through my post card collection (go here to read more) and found this invitation to a holiday viewing of Bloomsbury art in London. The image on the front is a lithograph made by the English artist Vanessa Bell in 1951. I propped it up in front of the Christmas tree and the beauty of it took my breath away.

 Wishing you the happiest of holidays!

Monday, December 16, 2013

Getting In The Mood...

Yesterday I turned my study into a little holiday workshop. There were cards to write, presents to wrap, and gift boxes to fill. I lit a candle, put on some Christmas music, made a cup of tea and got to work. As the soft light from a late December afternoon began to bathe the scene, I took some pictures to capture the moment.

 Orange Chai candle from Diptyque made the room smell like the holidays

I love the Christmas season. Over the years, the holiday has changed for me as my children have grown up and we definitely do some things differently than we used to. But there is still the anticipation and build-up each year that never fails to give me that little jolt of happiness and excitement. I bake cookies, wrap presents, send out cards and make a big Christmas breakfast. We put a wreath on the front door, poinsettias on the porch, decorate the tree and lay garlands on the mantle. There is comfort in the traditions that never change. 

Greeting cards ready to be written

I found some nostalgic Christmas cards made by Rifle Paper Co. and Mr. Boddington's Studio at my neighborhood stationary shop. Receiving cards and sending them out is one of the loveliest customs of the holidays.

Gift Boxes

I bought these gift boxes at a holiday box-making workshop that was held at Robinson Gardens. We were given plain boxes and festive embellishments with which to decorate them. These boxes turned out to be great for filling with cookies and candy.

 The white box with the green and red ribbon and colorful baubles on top is the one I made.

 Peppermint bark and chocolate toffee go into the boxes

A cup of tea looks pretty in holiday china

This is the week to get all the last-minute jobs done. But it is also the time to watch Christmas movies, try to catch a performance of "The Nutcracker," and spend quality time with family and friends.

Slate Cheese Board

A friend gave me this great cheese board. I love how she wrapped it. So many great ideas for gifts and wrapping come from friends.

 As the afternoon got later, the light began to fade

My little study has never looked happier. It was a cozy and festive afternoon getting ready for the holidays.

What are you doing to get in the mood?

Friday, December 13, 2013

Recipes for a Delicious Life

 The English food writer Elizabeth David wrote about giving herself a day off during the hectic holiday season:

"On at least one day...I stay in bed, making myself lunch on a tray: smoked salmon, home-made bread, butter, lovely cold white Alsace wine. A glorious way to celebrate Christmas."

I would add one more element to this delightful scene: a good book. And I have found it, a book that has swept me away from the holiday madness. Roaming through my neighborhood bookstore the other day looking for holiday gifts, I stumbled upon Marie Viljoen's new book 66 Square Feet, A Delicious Life. One Woman, One Terrace, 92 Recipes. I was thrilled to discover that the writer of the blog 66 Square Feet has now written a book. It is about one woman's formula for the good life. By meeting the challenge of making a lot out of a little, she discovered the secret for living a delightful life. As she writes, she discovered "how to live large, with little."

She tells the story of growing up in South Africa with a mother who taught her how to garden and cook. From early on, these were her two passions and sometimes solutions for the tough times. She moved to New York, with dreams of being an opera singer which she pursued for a while. But eventually she became a rooftop garden designer in New York City and amidst all the concrete and skyscrapers was able to live a garden-focused life. This turned out to be a very good thing, since gardens feed her soul.

She moved into a tiny Brooklyn apartment with a terrace measuring 66 square feet. And it was there that she discovered true happiness. It became her refuge from the noisy, busy world of the city as well as a source of inspiration for her daily life. She gardened, growing vegetables and fruit on her tiny terrace; she cooked in her small apartment for her husband and friends. Always a challenge in such a small space, she rose to the occasion and thrived. Her lucky family and friends were the recipients of her largesse. And she decided to blog about it. As it turned out, this was another very good decision. Connecting to a larger world and sharing her photos (which are beautiful!) and thoughts about her life brought her great contentment. After starting her blog, she realized she hadn't been this happy in years. As Anais Nin wrote  "we write to taste life twice, in the moment, and in retrospect." Viljoen shares this philosophy.

Her book (and blog) is about life in that small New York apartment and its 66 square foot terrace. Her formula for contentment boils down to two things: "A garden and a kitchen -- regardless of scale -- are my necessities." A woman with a lifelong passion for plants, she takes us through a year of living in New York and shows us this great city's botanical side. She writes about the treasures she finds in public parks and in her own garden. She brings them into her kitchen and whips up some marvelous dishes. Her recipes are seasonal and her simple and happy approach to cooking and living is inspirational.

The book is organized by the calendar -- one year of cooking and gardening -- which makes it is easy to open and dip into whatever season we are in. The other day I turned to December and came across a lovely passage about winter in New York as well as a menu for a mid-winter supper that sounded perfect for this time of year:  Creamy Garlic Soup, Sunchoke Salad, Mushroom Pizza, and Pears Roasted in Red Wine with Bay Leaves. Mmmm...her cozy vibe is contagious. I could picture myself making some of those dishes on a cold winter day.

If you don't own this book, my advice is to go out right now and get yourself a copy. The simplicity and beauty of Marie Viljoen's approach to life will inspire you during the hectic holiday season. You will slow down and recalibrate. Reading it will make you want to pause and savor life. My recipe for a delicious day? Make yourself lunch or dinner on a tray in the style of Elizabeth David (yes, pour that glass of cold, white Alsace wine), put your feet up, and get into bed or on the couch with a copy of 66 Square Feet. This is guaranteed to calm you down, put everything in perspective, and revive your spirits for the rest of the holiday season.

P.S. This book would make a great gift for anyone who loves to cook and garden! 

Monday, December 9, 2013

A Warm and Cozy Season

"Home is a name, a word, it is a strong one; stronger than magician ever spoke, or spirit ever answered to, in the strongest conjuration."  --  Charles Dickens

With the holiday season upon us and winter right around the corner, making our homes feel warm and welcoming is a satisfying job with long lasting benefits. Always on the hunt for cozy accessories, I have been looking at websites that have all kinds of wonderful and well-made items. These are old-fashioned and beautiful additions for the home that will warm up any environment. They seem to incorporate William Morris' edict:  "Have nothing in your home that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful." Here are a few items to make your  home feel warm and cozy for the holiday season and the winter months to come.

Seasonal Decor

Winter Wreath by Moon Canyon

French Herb Wreath


Tartan Pillows

Links Pillows
Alicia Adams Alpaca

Japanese Green Plaid Pillow
Nickey Kehoe


Small Thick Loop Rug
Kneeland Mercado

Tartan Rug

Blankets and Throws

Woven Gradient Throw

Tartan Throw

Daisy Patchwork Throw

Easterly Blanket
Nickey Kehoe


Vermont Fir Candle
Provisions by Food 52

Plaid Candle Bowl

 Holiday Candles

Kitchen Comforts

 Jadeite Glass Cake Plate
Provisions by Food 52

 Nesting Bowl Set, Holiday Collection
Heath Ceramics

Dipped Jugs
Ancient Industries

Burleighware Teapot
 Ben Pentreath

Hobnail Pitcher
Ben Pentreath

Coral Mugs

Tea Cozies
Ancient Industries


Festive Table Runners

Placemats and Napkins
 Heather Taylor Home

Cocktail napkins and Table Runner, Heather Taylor Home
Nickey Kehoe

Serving Pieces

Frances Palmer Ceramics
Provisions by Food 52


Plaid Plate

Slim Coffee Pot
MOMA Store

Cachepots and Vases

John Derian Tree Cachepot
Nickey Kehoe

Sweet Details

Soap from Sweden

Sewing Kit
Hot Water Bottle Sweaters
Ancient Industries

Wishing you a warm and cozy holiday season!

Top photo:  Holly Candles from Anta