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

Easter Basket Bouquet

28 Mar

Flowers in an Easter basket

I planted a few flowers in an Easter basket for our front “porch,” and they’re surprisingly cheerful for such a small amount of effort! I love seeing them on my way in and out; they’re a nice reminder that it’s almost Easter.

Easter basket planter

I bought the basket at a dollar store and used leftover plants from our window boxes. If you’re still suffering through freezing temperatures, a basket of flowers would also make a great table centerpiece and houseplants can substitute for garden flowers. You could even replace the standard Easter basket with wicker for a more sophisticated look (boring! just kidding), and thrift stores usually have them in abundance. I just can’t help myself with that fuchsia color: shirts, weddings, walls, towels and now Easter baskets!

Flowers in an Easter basket

Cake-filled Easter Eggs

25 Mar

Cake-filled Easter Eggs

Opening a cake egg

I love cake-filled Easter eggs — they taste so much better than the hard-boiled variety! I love cracking them on the table and popping the cake out of the shell. That said, making these eggs is no small undertaking; this is a post of what I would do differently if making these crazy eggs again.

Cake-filled eggs

Cracking open a cake-filled egg

Cake-filled Easter eggs

I followed directions from this post and this video, though I didn’t do yolk or tie-dyed filling. I colored the batter to match the dyed shells. In summary, I emptied eggs from a large hole on the bottom, cleaned and dyed the shells, piped them 3/4 full with cake batter (standing upright in a muffin pan with foil for support), and baked them for 20 minutes at 350.

Egg shells to fill

Cake eggs

Here’s what I learned:
1. It takes a long time to empty a batch of egg shells. Think about how you’ll be displaying them, and consider making larger holes for faster removal, if possible. Sitting your finished eggs in cardboard or ceramic egg crates, for example, means large holes on the bottom will be invisible!

Removing egg from shell

2. The cake batter is going to overflow. And it’s going to stick. No matter the amount of batter I used, it still overflowed while baking and stuck to the outside of the shell around the hole. Don’t try drastically under-filling to avoid overflow — the batter still rises and spills over, but then sinks back down while cooling and leaves you with a half-filled shell. Despite having non-stick spray on the outside of the shells, it took a long time to cut/pick it all off. (Perhaps there is a dense cake that rises less — that might be a nice solution!)

3. Because of number 2, I recommend dyeing with a light color or a marble technique. Picking the cake overflow off the eggs pulls off some of the color, as well. I love vibrantly-dyed eggs, but I didn’t love the discoloration that came with removing the excess cake.

Dyeing eggs

Cake egg discoloration

4. Consider doodling on the shells to disguise some of the splotches. I used non-toxic markers in slightly darker shades than the dye. It wasn’t something I would have done if the shells weren’t so messy, but I love how they turned out!

Easter egg doodles

If you’d prefer a less involved Easter project, I’ll post some cake-less egg-dyeing ideas later this week!

Opening a cake-filled egg

Shamrock Crackers

16 Mar

Shamrock Crackers

Shamrock crackers

Deb from Smitten Kitchen says people think she’s crazy for re-creating grocery store snacks and until yesterday, I might have agreed with them. Why make your own Wheat Thins when you can buy magically delicious ones for $2 a box?

Shamrock crackers

Two reasons: First, it’s easy (with a food processor, anyway). Second, you can make them however you want! This may sound obvious, but it never occurred to me to want Wheat Thins in a form other than how they’re sold. Now, in addition to seasoning your crackers however you like and working around whatever food allergies you need to, you can cut them into shapes. SO fun.

Shamrock crackers

As I mentioned, I used Smitten Kitchen’s Wheat Thins recipe. I rolled my dough out directly onto parchment paper (on my cookie sheet), cut the shamrocks out, removed the excess dough and baked them in position (no flouring, sticking, moving crackers from surface to surface etc). Using cookie cutters means a lot of re-rolling dough scraps and it slows the recipe down quite a bit, compared to making squares with a pizza cutter (the traditional method), but it was thrilling to see my very own crazy-shaped knock-off Wheat Thins come out of the oven. And now I officially have a St. Patrick’s Day recipe that doesn’t involve Baileys or Guinness!

I served these shamrock crackers with some awesome green gouda, but green toppings abound — guacamole, pesto, salsa verde, spinach dip, green hummus and so on.

Have a happy St. Patrick’s Day!

Baileys Cheesecake with Guinness Ganache

15 Mar

Bailey's cheesecake with Guinness ganache

I don’t know when Guinness and Baileys became the official edible representation of St. Patrick’s Day in my mind, but I suspect it was when we hosted our first St. Patrick’s Day party. I struggled to find appealing green or Irish recipes, as I don’t care for vegetables or corned beef and cabbage. (Greg made a great salad that disguised the corned beef and cabbage brilliantly in piles of potatoes, but they still didn’t win my heart.) Besides, how many cute corned beef dishes can you actually make?

Instead, I turned to Guinness and Baileys cupcakes, followed by Baileys truffles, Guinness chocolate pudding and now, Baileys cheesecake with Guinness ganache.

Irish? Check. Cuter than beef? Double check.

Modifying a regular cheesecake to make a Baileys version was actually easier than I expected — I just replaced the milk in our basic cheesecake recipe with Baileys. The Guinness ganache is just a bonus — optional (and delicious) for decorating or drizzling, but not necessary to make the cheesecake shine.

Leave plenty of time to prepare this cheesecake. Consider it a glorious make-ahead recipe! The five plus hours that the cheesecake spends in the oven go a long way in preventing cracks.

Ingredients:

Crust:
15 graham crackers, crushed
2 tablespoons butter, melted

Filling:
4 (8 oz) packages cream cheese
1 1/2 cups sugar
3/4 cup Baileys
4 eggs
1 cup sour cream
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
1/4 cup flour
Green food coloring (optional)

Ganache (optional):
4 ounces bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped
1/2 cup heavy cream
2 tablespoons Guinness Extra Stout

Directions:

1. Set out the cream cheese, eggs, sour cream and liqueur and allow to come to room temperature.

2. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Place a 13 x 9 inch dish of water on one of the lower racks.

3. Grease a 9 inch springform pan.

4. In a medium bowl, mix graham cracker crumbs with melted butter.

5. Press graham cracker mixture onto the bottom of a springform pan.

6. In a large bowl, mix cream cheese with sugar until smooth.

7. Blend Baileys into cream cheese mixture.

8. Add eggs one at a time, mixing just enough to incorporate.

9. Mix in sour cream, vanilla, several drops of food coloring (if using) and flour until smooth.

10. Pour filling into prepared crust.

11. Bake in preheated oven in the middle rack for 1 hour.

12. Turn the oven off, and let cake cool in oven with the door closed for 5 to 6 hours; this prevents cracking.

13. Chill in refrigerator until serving, several hours or overnight.

Ganache:

1. Heat the cream in a small saucepan until it bubbles around the edges.

2. Remove from heat and add the chocolate. Let it rest until the chocolate melts, about 1 minute.

3. Stir until the chocolate is smooth.

4. Heat the Guinness (on stove or in microwave) until warm.

5. Pour the Guinness into the ganache and mix until smooth. Let cool.

6. Pipe design onto cooled cheesecake. I drew my shamrock on the cheesecake with a skewer before piping and filling in the shape.

7. Enjoy the rest of your Guinness!