Map Cookies

24 Aug

Map cookies with hearts | seakettle

A few of my girlfriends recently had a going-away tea party for our sweet friend, Kelley. I made these USA cookies with hearts to mark where we and she will be living for the next few years. Too far away!

Map sugar cookies with hearts | seakettle

This was the first time I got to use my map cookie cutter, and also my first real go at royal icing. I followed the recipes, tips and tricks from Bridget at Bake at 350. (If you haven’t seen her cookies, you should really check them out! Amazing.)

Map cookies with hearts | seakettle

I certainly won’t be giving up my mom’s easy-peasy icing recipe, but this is my new go-to for precision decorating.

I was happy with how well the almond sugar cookies held their shape and how hard the royal icing dried. They held up amazingly well to freezing and defrosting (on the counter sealed in their container! Seems so counterintuitive to me.) This icing is more for show than for taste (think party favors and themed dessert tables), but they were surprisingly good. I had no trouble downing several of these cookies with my tea and sandwiches!

Piping royal icing

To decorate my maps, I piped a thin line of light pink frosting around the edges and then flooded the middle. After the icing set for a few minutes (but before it started to get hard), I used tweezers to place a heart sprinkle on each city.

Flooding the royal icing

Adding heart sprinkles

Now as much as I love South Bend, no one else needs to move there! Dear friends in Indiana: please come visit me in LA. I’ll bake for you!

P.S. Good luck at ND, Kelley. We miss you!

Alphabet Shower Decor and Activity

28 Jul

french alphabet banner | seakettle

I hung alphabet flash cards as a garland for my French-themed baby shower. After a bit of searching, I found several adorable free designs — I’m so thankful for the generous individuals who share their high-quality printables online! I love these cards, but decided on the French cards — the most fitting for the party!

(The cute little clothespins are from Michaels, by the way. I tried standard clothespins, but they dwarfed the cards.)

Alphabet card book | seakettle

As a shower activity, I asked each guest to unclip a card and write a note on the back to the baby. I encouraged them to relate their note to the letter on the front of the card, for example: “D is for dragons and dinosaurs and dreams. I hope you always follow your dreams!” Writing letter-specific notes was a bit trickier than the average “leave advice for the mom-to-be” or “write a note to baby,” but so worth it. The notes were all very clever, thoughtful and cute.

Alphabet card book | seakettle

After the shower, I punched a hole in the upper left corner of every card and put them on a plastic ring. The cards were a cute shower decoration, activity, guestbook and gift in one!

Potted Flower Favors and Flags

14 Jul

Potted favors and decorative flags

As I’ve mentioned before, I love favors. For a recent baby shower, I bought a few six packs of annuals and potted them in biodegradable pots to give as thank yous. The mass of favor flowers also served as an instant decoration, beautifully covering the cabinet in my entryway.

potted flower favors | seakettle

I added little “Merci Beaucoup” flags to the flowers, and they were so easy to whip up! (The flags were so cute that I made extras for labeling the various cheeses served at the party.) You just need ordinary copy paper and skewers. Print one of the flag templates (“Merci Beaucoup” or blank) on 8.5 x 11″ paper and cut the flags out. Write out your labels, if using the blank flags. Trim the flat edge of a skewer down to 6″ with pliers. Dab a little school glue on the end of the flag and roll it around the top of the skewer!

Flag for favors | seakettle

Flag for favors | seakettle

I love that biodegradable pots are small, rustic and affordable. The tricky thing is that these pots are meant to dissolve in water, so it takes a bit of work to keep the plants alive without degrading the pot — even damp soil when potting them will make the pots soggy. They’d actually be better for succulents or other drought tolerant plants. I dried my damp pots in the hot sun before the shower, but the sun also took a few casualties!

We planted a few leftover favors along the path to our front door, and they are thriving in their sunny spot. I love seeing them as I come and go and remembering both the baby shower and new family of three!

Chocolate Honey Mousse

23 Jun

Chocolate mousse | seakettle

I’m hardly an expert on mousse — my most vivid memories of it include repeatedly sampling it at Notre Dame’s dining hall’s “fancy” dinners on the nights of home football games. Even though I kept trying it, I was always disappointed. My husband, completely independent of me, had the exact same experience. (We also independently concluded that ND’s (south) dining hall serves the only pizza *anywhere* that we don’t like. It’s strange, really, because the Notre Dame dining halls are generally fantastic.)

This recipe, the one I used for a French baby shower, was a mousse I really liked! It was also extremely easy to make, especially compared to recipes that require making a custard. It was less easy to put in the glasses, as it’s too thick to pour nice and evenly into small vessels.

Chocolate Honey Mousse | seakettle

The mousse is lighter on day one, then a bit stiffer after. It doesn’t change in consistency between day two and seven, so feel free to make it several days in advance if you aren’t able to make it just before serving.

I added chopped chocolate chips and cherries as garnish, but you can skip the topping or add whipped cream (as called for in the recipe) instead!

French-Themed Baby Shower

13 Jun

cheese board | seakettle

I recently had the honor of hosting a baby shower for my friend Grace. I particularly enjoyed planning this shower knowing that Grace’s affinity for Europe meant I could make the party a little fancy and a little French and not necessarily the typical baby boy party!

periwinkle statice and yellow rose arrangement | seakettleblue hydrangeas | seakettle

The day before the shower, I headed to the flower market for blue hydrangeas and came home with statice as well. Huge bunches of the periwinkle-colored statice were just $2, and they’re looking as lovely now (nearly two weeks later) as on day one. Amazing. I also had an overwhelming urge to change the shower “color” to red after passing gallon-size buckets of 10 dozen spray roses for $15! Amazing x 2. Instead, I added white and yellow roses from the garden to the statice arrangements.

cheese board | seakettle

For the food table, I arranged a sprawling spread of cheese and accompaniments. I used flags to label the brie, parmesan, cheddar, gouda and herbed goat cheese. Extras included croissants, breads and crackers, a pasta salad, walnuts, cherries, apricots, honey, dried cranberries and olives. It was great not to worry about cooking on the shower day, but getting so many dishes on the table was its own logistical challenge!

cheese board | seakettle

Greg also sanded a beautiful piece of wood to function as a cutting board, and it was finished just in the nick of time — guests were already starting to arrive!

pasta salad | seakettle

appetizers | seakettle

cheese board | seakettle

Activities included bingo and thumbprint-stamp balloons. Look for boy and girl versions of the bingo board to download in an upcoming post!

Baby shower bingo fan | seakettleThumbprint balloon print | seakettle

I also hung French alphabet cards that served as both a decoration and an activity. Guests unclipped the cards to write notes on the back for the baby.

french alphabet banner | seakettle

The shower ended with French desserts — pistachio macarons, chocolate honey mousse, mini chocolate éclairs and a raspberry crepe cake.

dessert table | seakettle

I had several near-catastrophes with my macarons and crepe cake — fortunately I made them ahead of time and not the day of the shower! In the end, they were both pretty and delicious. Whew!

mini chocolate eclairs | seakettle

My mother-in-law made the fabulous éclairs, one of her many specialties.

dessert plate | seakettle

pistachio macarons | seakettle

As a parting gift, I gave guests potted Sweet Alyssum. The tiny white flowers are sold (seemingly everywhere) in six packs, and I transplanted them into biodegradable pots. I added “Merci Beaucoup” flags, and I’ll include a template for that in an upcoming post, as well.

potted flower favors | seakettle

Many more shower details to follow. Now for the countdown to baby Max’s arrival!

Window Boxes and Trim

9 Jun

Flowers in window boxes

Did you know that there’s a disadvantage to living on a property with nearly 200 rose bushes? (I know, it’s hard to imagine.)

Windows, before

Winter.

Roses need to be pruned heavily in the wintertime in order to bloom abundantly through the rest of the year. This means that from January through March, the front of our home has looked rather depressing. (I know that most of the country is completely flower-less from November through April, which I’ll acknowledge as even more depressing, but in LA the spring bulbs start coming up in January!)

Not long after I mentioned that window boxes might be a nice way to add winter color, my father-in-law happened to find three out at the neighbors’ curb. They were a little damaged and mismatched, but they were free and they showed up at the perfect time! They’re also a near perfect fit for our widest window, amazingly enough.

Window boxes, before

We sanded, primed and painted them. My father-in-law added brackets to the wall and they were ready to go!

Windows, before

Before.

New window boxes and trim

After. Way after.

I love them!

Now, as you can see, the roses are back in bloom alongside the window box flowers. The addition of some window trim, as well as the untimely death of my first batch of flowers (ranunculus!) while we were on a quick trip, meant the boxes were slow to reach full potential. Meanwhile, the lovely roses came back into bloom and surrounded them.

Flowers in window boxesNew window boxes and trim

I decided that this was as good a time as any to add some trim to our naked windows. I love trim and think most ugly buildings (like all the apartments in our neighborhood) would be vastly improved by adding it. Greg kindly obliged and picked up, cut and installed some trim around our two windows. We have a wood front door — complete with its own matching wood trim — making it hard to match everything on the wall. Yet even without being completely matchy, I think the white window trim is a great improvement.

Window boxes

I hadn’t anticipated how much I’d enjoy seeing the flower box flowers from inside our house, since our dining room table sits right beside this window. They make the sun-filled living/dining area an even nicer spot to work in!

Pink Grapefruit Gin and Tonics

5 Jun

Pink Grapefruit Gin and Tonics

Grapefruit gin and tonics

Hey y’all, sorry for the radio silence. Greg and I have just been lounging by the pool drinking G&Ts, too busy relaxing to bother with writing new Seakettle posts!

Juuuust kidding. We have been making this grapefruit version of the classic summer drink with some frequency, but we’ve also gone on four trips in the last six weeks, besides throwing a shower, having a house guest and celebrating our fifth anniversary. Summertime busyness just happened to hit us in May this year!

Grapefruit

Meanwhile, grapefruit has been on sale 5 for a dollar, and we’ve been juicing them every chance we get. (We also tried bottled grapefruit juice once, and I don’t recommend it. Better to stick with a regular G&T if you don’t have fresh juice.)

Grapefruit gin and tonics

I love this easy twist on one of my favorite drinks. I also adore its blush pink color, especially in my gold-rimmed glasses!

Pink Grapefruit Gin & Tonics

Grapefruit gin and tonic ingredients

Ingredients:
Gin
Tonic (we use diet)
Juice from 1/2 pink grapefruit (per drink), strained

Directions:
Add a few ice cubes to your glass. Add 50 ml gin, 150 ml tonic, and top with grapefruit juice. Garnish with additional grapefruit, if you like!

Blue Cheese and Fig Jam Crackers

8 Apr

Blue cheese & fig jam crackers

I recently needed to make an appetizer that could sit for 3 hours in a warm car, and it wasn’t until a few days before that I realized just how heavily most appetizers rely on either refrigerators or ovens.

Blue cheese & fig jam crackers

Undaunted, I sifted through the pages of Epicurious (my favorite recipe starting point, besides The New Best Recipe cookbook) until I found the recipe for these “savories.” No need to be disappointed that these little crackers aren’t sweet. I love a good jam cookie, but these are like grown-up Goldfish crackers — equally tempting to eat by the handful, but also beautiful enough to serve for a special occasion!

I highly recommend choosing a pretty cookie cutter over the circle recommended in the original recipe. We all know how I love to customize with cookie cutters! Try stars or even letters, if they have enough room for the jam. These crackers hold their shape well.

Blue cheese & fig jam crackers

Blue Cheese and Fig Jam Crackers
adapted from epicurious.com

I made a few modifications to the original recipe based on reviews, namely adding salt and rolling them out thicker. The dough, which is easily made by dumping things into the food processor, can be refrigerated for days before using, though it needs a generous amount of time to warm up before rolling.

Ingredients:
1 cup all-purpose flour
8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature
4 ounces blue cheese, crumbled
1/2 teaspoon salt
Freshly ground black pepper
About 3 tablespoons fig preserves (we used homemade jam we had in the freezer, made for our Autumn Appetizer Party (tasted great 5 months later!))

Directions:
1. Heat the oven to 350°F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

2. Place the flour, butter, blue cheese, salt and a few grinds of black pepper in the bowl of a food processor and process until the dough just comes together and starts to form a ball.

3. Dump the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and knead a few times to pull it together. Then roll out to a 1/4-inch-thick circle with a floured rolling pin. Cut shapes out of the dough with a 1-inch cookie cutter and transfer to the parchment-lined baking sheet. Reroll the scraps, working the dough as little as possible, and cut more.

4. Using your finger tip or knuckle, make an indentation in the center of each cracker. Spoon about 1/8 teaspoon of the fig preserves into each indentation.

Making indentations

Adding jam

5. Bake the crackers until the pastry is light golden on the bottom, 8-10 minutes. Transfer to a wire rack to cool.

Do ahead: The dough, wrapped in plastic, can be refrigerated for several days before baking. Allow time for it to warm up before rolling it out. Baked crackers can also be frozen, jam and all, between layers of parchment paper (and you can reuse the parchment that you bake them on). To defrost, set the crackers in a single layer on paper towels. The batch we served on Easter came out of the freezer, and Greg and I both thought they tasted as good as fresh.

Spring Entryway

4 Apr

Spring entryway

I’m currently loving our little entryway nook; it was decorated for Easter but is staying this way until the flowers die. Our painted cabinet has come a long way! This spot changes constantly depending on holidays and flower arrangements, but I’m particularly fond of this setup. Aren’t the New Zealand Tea flowers amazing?

Books and whatnot

The little glass and gold box is a thrift-store find that typically houses a succulent. Right now it holds a nest from the yard with a blown-out and nail-polish-painted egg. That egg-decorating process was a little rocky, but I’m hoping to master the technique for next year!

Nail polish egg in nest

Polka Dot Easter Eggs

29 Mar

Polka Dot Easter Eggs

Polka dot Easter eggs

I just can’t get enough of polka dots. Just like the polka dot pumpkins that I made for Halloween, I decorated a batch of eggs with a little gold paint.

Polka dot Easter eggs

I dyed a few blown out eggshells with standard red and green dye from an egg dye kit. Because my shells were empty, they required constant pressure to keep them from popping to the surface of the dye. I dipped them just briefly to get the pastel shades and let them dry on a cooling rack set over a cookie sheet.

Polka dot Easter eggs

To make the dots, I used regular gold acrylic paint and a pencil eraser. You can also buy non-toxic acrylic paint, and that’d be a safer bet for hard-boiled eggs. The process is simple — put a little gold paint on a paper plate, dab the (brand new) eraser end of a pencil into the paint, then dab the paint onto the egg. I painted each egg one half at a time, letting it dry on a cooling rack before rotating to do the second half.

Painting dots on Easter eggs

Painting dots on Easter eggs

Now I just need my wheatgrass to grow a bit taller, so I can assemble a centerpiece with it and my new eggs. We’re having a little egg-decorating breakfast tomorrow, and I can’t wait to see what everyone comes up with!

Polka dot Easter eggs