Holidays, Events & Parties

Seasons for Teaching

February 18, 2015

Sam Ciurdar Photo
It’s Ash Wednesday, the beginning of the Christian season of Lent. These days, Lent in my life is not so much about giving up sweets or chocolate — though I do cut out treats and extras as a discipline — but addressing interior things like my attitudes, dispositions, etc. I also try to make more time for prayer and am more deliberate about giving to others. It never quite goes as planned, but I like the chance to focus on transformation.

Now that we have kids, though, what I love most about the various seasons — whether they be religious, civic, or natural — is the opportunities they give us with our daughters. Symbols, rituals, foods, and practices — things they can touch, taste, smell, see, hear — are the best ways for children to absorb different concepts and ideas.

Yesterday, for example, I made a traditional Mardi Gras king cake. My attempts at a gluten-free version completely flopped, but it was at least edible! I hid the plastic baby in the cake, and one of my daughters found it and got to wear the paper crown. It gave us a chance to talk about the tradition of the king cake, the baby Jesus, the difference between feasting and fasting, and what the season of Lent is about. I kept it simple, but it’s always neat to see them getting into it, asking questions, and sharing thoughts about what they’re experiencing.

What special seasons or traditions do you celebrate in your house? Do you use them as springboards for teaching your kids?

Image: sam ciurdar/samciurdar.com. Used with permission via Snapwire Snaps

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Panna Cotta for Fat Tuesday

February 17, 2015

Panna Cotta
I made my first panna cotta yesterday! Ever since my friend Carrie shared her favorite recipe with me, I’ve been looking for an occasion to try it. With Lent starting this week, my brother and his family stopping by for a visit, and my favorite cream in the fridge, I decided it was the perfect time. The stars were aligned!

Panna cotta, an Italian cream-based dessert, always seemed intimidating to me, so I couldn’t believe how easy it was. It took no time at all. The color of mine turned out light tan, instead of a creamy white, because I had no white sugar on hand (I used honey and coconut palm sugar instead). Except for the color difference, though, you never would have known — and given I was using white dessert bowls (with smaller, clear jars for the kids), I liked the color contrast.

The only disappointment was that I didn’t have bourbon to put in it, which is what my friend Carrie uses and it blows everyone away. I did have a little Cointreau on hand, though, which did the trick just fine.

I’m sure Carrie wouldn’t mind my sharing the recipe she gave me, so here it is — a decadent dessert for Fat Tuesday/Mardi Gras:

Panna Cotta 

The original recipe can be found in What’s Cooking America

  • 1 envelope of unflavored gelatin (approx. 2 teaspoons)
  • 1/2 cup milk or half and half
  • 2 1/2 cups heavy cream*
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1 to 1 1/2 T of bourbon or liqueur you like (optional)

In a small bowl, sprinkle the gelatin over 1/2 cup milk and let stand until the gelatin is softened. In a large saucepan, combine the heavy cream and sugar and add vanilla extract. Bring the cream just to a simmer (don’t let it boil), whisking occasionally until sugar has completely dissolved. Remove from the heat. Add the softened gelatin mixture and whisk to completely dissolve the gelatin. (The original recipe suggests straining the hot cream mixture, but I didn’t, and Carrie never does either.)

Pour into ramekins, teacups, wine glasses, Mason jars, whatever suits the occasion. Refrigerate for at least 3 hours, or overnight. Top with shaved chocolate, a coffee bean, some fresh fruit, or whatever you like. Makes 4 to 6 servings (depending on size of the serving cups).

Many thanks to my friend Carrie for inspiring me to finally make this tasty dessert!

Image: Zoe Saint-Paul 

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Friday Inspiration

February 13, 2015

I love us
Valentine’s Day always felt too commercial and sappy to warrant much of a celebration from me; about the best B and I have ever mustered up as couple was to order take out and watch a movie. There were a couple of years when we headed to a bookstore together to pick out something we thought the other would like, but it never became a tradition — probably because we’re both too fussy about what we want to read.

Ever since becoming a mom, though, I enjoy having any reason to celebrate with my kids. I’ve decided to make Valentine’s Day a time to celebrate love: the love we have for each other, for our family and friends, and God’s love for us. It’s a day that gives us another chance to talk about love: what it is, what it isn’t, being grateful for the people on our lives, what it means that God is love, etc.

The image above says exactly want I particularly want to celebrate this weekend: the love I have for my quirky, funny, slightly unconventional little family. I really do love us!

Also, since Valentine’s Day lends itself to things my girly-girls tend to love — pink and red and hearts and treats and general cuteness — I’m going to go with it a little bit for their sake. I helped S and H make some adorable little Valentine’s cards for their homeschool co-op class (they turned out so cute!), and I even made homemade chocolates for them to take to their party. (Well, they were vegan and made with raw organic cacao and coconut palm sugar, but the girls loved them, so yay!)

I guess you could say I’ve made my peace with Valentine’s Day, too.

What about you? Do you love Valentine’s Day? Hate it? Are you somewhere in between? Whether you celebrate or not, I hope you have a lovely (and love-filled) weekend!

Image: Lovely Little Snippets

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by Margaret Cabaniss

sparkling_wine_tasting_2
Got any plans for Saturday night? I may have made my peace with Valentine’s Day, but the fancy evenings out still don’t really appeal to me — and the maitre d’s of the world back me up on this one: The crowds are insane, the food is overpriced, the service is rushed and snappy…just what you want for a romantic dinner with your one and only.

But Valentine’s Day is also my sister’s birthday, so we couldn’t let it go uncelebrated; instead, we’re inviting some friends over for a sparkling wine tasting! It seemed like the perfect fit for a joint holiday-birthday party: Sparkling wine just feels celebratory, so it instantly fancies up any party, but a low-key tasting at home means none of the hassle or expense of going out. Plus the theme works equally well for Valentine’s enthusiasts or “down with love”-types: Coupled or single, champagne is always delicious.

sparkling_wine_tasting_3
Our plan is pretty simple: We went to the local wine shop and asked for their recommendations for various sparkling wines at different price points, and they were happy to oblige. (If you’re looking to keep costs down, you can always ask each guest to contribute a bottle to the mix.) To make it interesting, we’ll divide people into pairs for a blind tasting and see who can tell the difference between a $6 and $60 bottle. Throw in some chocolate, and you have the makings of an excellent evening — whether you’re celebrating Valentine’s Day, a birthday, or nothing at all.

Not sure where to start? The Kitchn has some helpful tips on navigating champagne styles, different sparkling wines for every budget, and even how to open a bottle. I’ll be raising a glass to every last one of you.

PS — More Valentine’s Day ideas: an adorable bunting, chocolate truffles, no-candy Valentines, and a last-minute gift idea.

Images: Margaret Cabaniss

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Spiked Eggnog
Today is B’s birthday, and every time it rolls around I feel like I get off easy. He likes to go out to dinner as a family — which we did Saturday evening — and he’ll dig into a special birthday dessert I make and blow out some candles for the girls’ sake, but that’s about the extent of it. He hates it when I tell the restaurant staff it’s his birthday (and expressly asked me not to this time, because I usually can’t help myself). About the worst thing I could do for this guy would be to throw him a surprise party. My name would be mud.

I, on the other hand, not only like to celebrate my birthday in grand fashion, but the event usually extends itself over the course of days: I’ve got to do something with my family, and then local friends usually plan something, and then — because someone inevitably can’t make it, because its so close to Christmas — there might be a couple of one-on-one get-togethers a few days later. This past birthday, I think I had three separate birthday events spanning an eight-day period; it was essentially a birthday octave. I’ve been known to tell strangers that it’s my birthday — not because I want them to acknowledge it, but because I’m kind of like a kid about it and can’t keep my mouth shut.

B doesn’t get this at all, but at least he finds it funny.

The difference in how we celebrate birthdays definitely speaks to our personality types: I’m extroverted and social and love any excuse for a party. (I’ve also never quite left the stage behind.) B, on the other hand, is an introvert, not at all a social butterfly, and doesn’t like to draw attention to himself. He’s not quite a “bah humbug”-er, but he comes pretty close.

I’ve learned over the years to plan his birthdays the way he wants, and not the way I‘d want. It took me some time to learn that lesson, but I think I’ve got the hang of it now. Like I said, it’s certainly a lot less work, and more importantly, it makes him happy.

Tonight I’m making his favorite pie (he’s not a big cake fan), and we’ll stick a few candles in it and give him some cards and a small gift. (In another post, I’ll have to tell you about a bigger birthday gift he decided on — it’s a fun one!) As of bedtime tonight, B’s 2015 birthday will officially be wrapped up and we’ll get on with our week.

By the way, did I mention that I love the guy? I hope it’s his best year yet!

How do you celebrate birthdays? Is it different than the way your significant other or loved ones like to celebrate?

Image: Zoe Saint-Paul

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Merry Christmas!

December 25, 2014

 

Saint Pauls at Park 2
Since this is the only half-decent shot taken of our family over the past few months, I’m hoping the bunny and kitten ears will distract you from how pooped B and I look. It’s been that kind of year — a good one, but a tiring one!

A heartfelt Merry Christmas to all of you celebrating over the next few days (and hopefully for at least 12 days)! I also hope my Jewish readers had a very beautiful Hanukkah (which ended last night at sundown). If you’re traveling, may it be uneventful, and if the holidays are a sad time for you, I hope you will experience the joy and peace of this season in some way.

We’re rolling with the punches here, since illness and canceled flights led to some change in plans with relatives, but everything today should fall right into place. My mother-in-law is finally here, my brother’s household is on the mend, and my girls seem to enjoy Christmas more each year, which makes it tons of fun.

It will be quiet here for the next few days as we celebrate the holiday as a family, but I’ll be back next week. Have a safe and joyful Christmas holiday, friends! xoxo

Image: JWR

 

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by Margaret Cabaniss

peanut_blossoms
Holiday baking seems like one of those things that people simultaneously love and dread about the season: It’s just not Christmas without gingerbread, but it can be so. much. work. — particularly during a time when your to-do list is already a mile long. Last night capped off a day wherein I made twelve dozen cookies, so I feel like I’ve had a bit of crash course in big-batch holiday baking this week. If a tower of Christmas cookies looms in your future, consider a few tricks to help save your sanity:

Keep it simple. No less true for being obvious! Stick to one or two (maybe three) recipes that you know well and that are worth the effort — something where it just wouldn’t feel like Christmas without them. Streamlining the process keeps you from overbuying ingredients and overcommitting yourself to elaborate treats that take more time or input than they’re ultimately worth. If you just have to have the variety, consider a cookie swap with your friends: Everyone bakes a big batch of one item to share, so each guest can take home a sample of everything.

Another way to keep it simple? Do your holiday baking the week after Christmas, when there are no more gifts to buy, cards to write, or suitcases to pack. Most people are home from school or taking extended vacations that week anyway, so there’s much more time to relax and enjoy the process. Christmas lasts 12 days, after all — why not spread out the cheer?

frozen_dough
Freeze your dough. 
This was the single handiest trick I used all week. It’s a lifesaver when your office holiday party is in the middle of the week, but you know you won’t have time to start from scratch the night before. Instead, I mixed up a big batch of dough when I had extra time over the weekend, froze individual portions, and then was able to quickly bake off exactly the number of cookies I needed later in the week, right when I needed them, even when I was low on time. Yes, some cookies freeze fine after baking, but I never find them to be quite as good after defrosting — certainly not compared to the freshly baked variety. If you’re going to go through the trouble of freezing anyway, make it on the front end.

The Kitchn recently posted this handy list of doughs that freeze well, and those that don’t (basically, lots of butter: good). Gingerbread and sugar cookie dough freeze great flattened into disks and wrapped in saran wrap and foil (or a ziploc bag); I froze individual balls of peanut blossom dough on a tray before dropping them in a ziploc bag, so they’d be easy to portion out later. My biscotti dough did fine in the fridge overnight, too — and Deb’s recent recipe for gingerbread biscotti is killer.

gingerbread_cookies
Break up the process
. Even when you do have the time to mix, roll out, bake, and decorate your cookies all in one sitting, I generally don’t enjoy spending hours baking and decorating and still having a mess to clean up in the kitchen afterward. Breaking up the process into manageable chunks means you can do the messy work one day, and the fun baking/decorating part with the kids later. Bonus: You can be doing two things at once this way (baking while you cook dinner, for instance), and your kitchen doesn’t have to remain a wreck through the whole process. For these peanut blossoms, I made the dough one afternoon, rolled the balls that night after dinner, then baked the cookies a few days later. Sometimes just getting to walk away and do something else for a bit breaks up the monotony and makes it all more enjoyable.

What are your tips and tricks for keeping holiday baking manageable this time of year? Any classic recipes you make every year?

Images: Margaret Cabaniss

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How’s your December going so far? Have you made progress on your holiday gift lists, or are you still trying to find time to even think about it? Before it gets too close to Christmas, I wanted to mention a few companies I really like for holiday gifts for kids, in case you need some ideas…

Barefoot Books

Barefoot Books Christmas
I love Barefoot Books. Started by two moms in 1992, Barefoot is all about combining beautiful art with captivating storytelling. What also drew me to their products was their attention to cultural and social diversity. It’s not always easy to find books that I’m excited to give my daughters, and Barefoot delivers.

Under the tree for S and H this year will be two books from this new princess series, as well as the award-winning World Atlas, which I can’t wait to see. Barefoot’s Greek Epic Book set with CD would be perfect for a child over 8, and I love their Greek Myths set, which is on sale right now. Barefoot has lovely bedtime books for little ones, too. (I’m eyeing a couple for my two-year-old nephew.) Here’s their Holiday Gift Guide, if you want to check it out.

(For Christmas delivery, be sure to order before 11 a.m. EST on December 15; after that you’ll pay extra for faster shipping. Shipping is free on orders of $60 or more.)

Prima Princessa
Prima Princessa
Prima Princessa sent me one of their DVDs a couple of months ago, and I was curious if my daughters would like it. They did–and many other kids apparently do, too. Another company created by two moms (moms run the world), Prima Princessa focuses on teaching children ages 3-6 dance steps while exposing them to professional ballet performances. In each show, a ballerina fairy named Prima Princessa takes a group of preschool age children to see a condensed version of a classical ballet, and in between acts the children practice ballet steps they’ve just watched.

The DVD we saw, “Prima Princessa Presents The Nutcracker,” would be a perfect stocking-stuffer for a little dance enthusiast. It features England’s Birmingham Royal Ballet and includes mini-ballet lessons from students at the School of American Ballet, the official academy of the New York City Ballet. The show has aired on more than 400 PBS and public television stations nationwide, and you can find it on Amazon both as a DVD or instant download.

Princessa Productions also has DVDs for Sleeping Beauty and Swan Lake, and on their website you can find a Ballet for Beginners book, a ballet dictionary, ballet coloring pages, crafts for kids, preschool games, and listings of ballet schools and ballet companies nationwide.

Tea Collection

Tea-Collection-Fall-2013
I’m currently a little obsessed with the children’s clothes at Tea Collection. (I managed to snag a few dresses for my girls online during the Black Friday sale.) Founded by (yet again) two moms, Tea’s mission is to “bring worldwide culture and modern design to children’s fashion.” And they seem to do it well. I was impressed with the quality of the garments when they arrived and love the way they mix colors and patterns.

Their new Citizen Blue line is sweet — I love this Java Garden Keyhole Dress. And this Backpacker Happy Hoodie would look adorable on any of my (many) nephews.

I’ll be sticking to the sales at Tea Collection — especially since I usually need two of everything — but it’s great to know about ethical clothing companies for kids that do high-quality stuff. If you’re looking for some special clothes this season, you may want to check them out.

Any companies or products your eyeing for kids’ gifts this year? I’d love to know!

Images: Barefoot Books, Prima Princessa, Tea Collection

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by Margaret Cabaniss

people-who-love-to-eat
I’ve done a SlowMama holiday gift roundup for the past few years now (2011, 2012, 2013), but for 2014, I had big plans. I was going to be prepared — so starting way back in January, I began pinning gift ideas that appealed to me as I came across them throughout the year, thinking that, come Thanksgiving, I’d have my list pretty much made for me.

Well. I just took a look at that Pinterest board full of great gift ideas, and I realized that 95% of them are food- and booze-related. (Hey, I love what I love.) So rather than attempt to pull together a comprehensive list of every good thing this year, I’m just making one list of some of my favorites that would make fantastic gifts for your own similarly single-minded loved ones.

In no particular order:

polenta-serving-board-mark-weinberg
Polenta serving boardI didn’t even know this was a thing until I read a post on The Kitchn about hosting an Italian polenta supper party, but I was immediately on board. (Er, so to speak.) This would make such an impressive presentation, even if you’re not serving up a trough of polenta on it.

homemade-gin-kit
Homemade gin kitI have no idea whether this gin would actually be any good (though early indicators are encouraging), but it looks like an awesome experiment anyway — and the closest you’ll get to making your own booze without a pot still or bathtub. A fun gift for the home experimenter — or, if they’re more a whiskey fan, try Wassmund’s whiskey barrel-aging kit.

trubee-honey
Trubee honey
We’ve talked here before about how hard it can be to find good raw honey; Trubee offers to ship it right to your home. I love their description of the honey created by their “free-range” bees as “the taste of nature in a particular place and time” — and they have different honey “vintages” to back it up. Pick up some beeswax and lip balm while you’re at it.

pdt-cocktail-book
Cocktail books. 
This entry is a twofer because I couldn’t pick just one. I think of bartender and cocktail blogger Jeffrey Morgenthaler as sort of the Alton Brown of the booze world, breaking down the whys and hows behind a truly excellent cocktail in The Bar Book. Then help them put those newfound skills to good use: Jim Meehan’s PDT Cocktail Book lays out more than 300 cocktail recipes, including classics and new favorites from his celebrated New York speakeasy, in a gorgeously illustrated guide. I’m volunteering now as taste-tester.

white-whale-cocktails
White Whale mixers. Meanwhile, if they want a great cocktail the easy way, without all that fancy book-learnin’, try a small-batch cocktail mixer — just add the spirit and garnish. Hide the bottles in the kitchen, and no one need be the wiser.

rancho-gordo-sweet-sampler
Rancho Gordo Sweet SamplerI mentioned their fantastic beans in a past roundup, but they do sweet care packages, too. This one holds all the ingredients (…well, almost) to make a pretty extraordinary bananas foster.

old-salt-trader-set
Old Salt Gift SamplerIf their tastes run more toward the savory than the sweet, try a selection of gourmet sea salts. That black powder looks amazing.

gg-sideboard
G & G Mercantile’s Sideboard
And finally, if you can’t choose among the above, just get them the whole kit and caboodle: Garden and Gun‘s Mercantile shop offers a gift subscription to some of the amazing Southern food and drink they feature in their magazine throughout the year. This is the care package to end all care packages.

Not pictured: vintage barware, tea towels, a subscription to their favorite cooking magazine…the options here are pretty much endless. For more unique gourmet gifts and accessories, check out the rest of the G & G Mercantile or Food52’s Provisions.

Where else do you find great food-and-drink gifts? Any favorites you’re giving (or hoping to receive) this year?

PS — Don’t forget all the great homemade treats you can give as gifts this time of year: Try some roasted rosemary pecans with cranberries, chocolate truffles, or a thoughtful housewarming gift

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Veteran’s Day

November 11, 2014

Greatest Generation

I always want to post something profound on days like Veteran’s Day, but then I get writer’s block. I’ll make a confession, though: It wasn’t until about five years ago that I realized the difference between Veteran’s Day and Memorial Day. I’ll blame that on the fact that most of my childhood was not spent in the United States and November 11 in Canada is Remembrance day, when the fallen are remembered and honored.

In case you’re still in the dark, Veteran’s Day in the U.S. is when we honor everyone who has served his or her country — living and dead. Whereas on Memorial Day, we remember those who have died in service only.

Even though I hate war and violence, as a full-fledged scaredy cat I’m always moved when I think of those who risk their lives for their country. I’m also aware of the trauma experienced by those who see combat and the scars they carry from it. And their loved ones… how tough is it to have a husband, wife, son, daughter, brother, sister in the military? Families sacrifice so much.

Peace and thank you to all of our veterans today — those who never came back; those in active duty right now; and those who are safe at home.

Image: greatestgenerationtumblr.com

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