Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Sunshine on my shoulders....Makes me Happy....

Sunshine on my Tree makes me happier! I don't know what it is, but every now and again the sun enters through the window so perfectly that when it reflects off the tree it is just magical! I'm sure it has everything to do with the glittery decorations and the colors of purple, gold and green that really make it sparkle. I can't believe how accustomed I have grown to it and sadly watch each calendar day pass knowing that it will soon be time to transform it in to a tree to celebrate Valentine's Day. I will use these next few days to fully enjoy what is left of the Mardi Gras tree. The decorations will soon be gone, but the memory will linger and the anticipation of what will unfold is exciting. A blank slate...a new opportunity to release the creativity and a whole new experience to delight in.
Back to John....
"If I had a tale that I could tell you
I'd tell a tale sure to make you smile
If I had a wish that I could wish for you
I'd make a wish for sunshine all the while"
Until then....

Monday, January 25, 2010

Pasta Ciotti Recipe

I have had a few inquiries to my recipe that I posted for the Italian pastry known as Pasta Ciotti. Pasta Ciotti literally means little custard tarts. They are my favorite Italian pastry and I am equally fond of both the chocolate and the vanilla filled varieties. It is a rather lengthy recipe so for editing purposes here is the link to the recipe I found through google that I have used with great results. http://www.dianasdesserts.com/index.cfm/fuseaction/recipes.recipeListing/filter/dianas/recipeID/4405/Recipe.cfm

Through much trial and error, I would like to share the following tips. DO use unbleached flour for the dough recipe. My first go round, I only had all purpose flour in the pantry and didn't think it would make any difference...it does. The first batch had a strong flour taste, but since using the unbleached flour that has not been a problem.
I remember the pastries from back home having a slight taste of lemon so I add about 3/4's of a cap full of lemon flavoring to the dough recipe...perfection!
I do not own tart tins so I use a standard muffin tin. I spray the pan well with Pam. I did go at the recipe the first few times, rolling out the dough and using the biscuit cutter but find that I can do it much better by just grabbing up a small hand full of dough in to my hands, rolling it into a ball and then using my fingers to mold the dough to the sides of the muffin pan. Unfortunately, I have also found that this doesn't work well if you prefer to maintain long nails...sorry. For the tops...I do the same...just make certain to keep a bowl of flour handy to rub your hands in for when the dough starts to become sticky. I slightly flatten the dough in my palms...place on top of the filled tarts and gently push the dough together along the sides to seal.
For my oven...12 minutes is the perfect amount of baking time. I shut off the heat and allow the tarts to remain in the oven one additional minute. I then flip the tarts out on to a large pizza pan and usually they all pop out with no difficulty. I flip them back over and while they are still warm, sprinkle them with a generous amount of confectionery sugar. Once completely cooled, I place them in a sealed container and keep refrigerated.
Do let me know if you try the recipe and what you think of them. I am planning on preparing both the vanilla and the chocolate ones for my girlfriends next month when I host our monthly canasta game.
Enjoy and until next time...create something of beauty...

Saturday, January 23, 2010

I Think I Channeled Julie Today...

When I started on this silly exercise in challenging myself to live with a Christmas tree for an entire year, I didn't go at it with any expectations. I actually was quite amused and bewildered when it suddenly occurred to me that there was a similarity to the character Julie and the movie Julie and Julia. I am in no way attempting to recreate what Julie did. In fact, I bow my hat to her and the level of discipline she had to maintain in order to reach her goal. For one thing, Julie worked a full time job and regardless of how tired she was at the end of her work day, she had a commitment to fulfill. I only have to prepare something a maximum of 12 times in the changing of the decorations on the tree with each new month...Julie had to prepare an elaborate meal EVERY night of the week. Not just any meal...a FRENCH meal. My french culinary skills are non existent...unless of course french fries count and even those I believe were of an Americans doing. It's not that I don't enjoy cooking. In fact, I can completely empathize with Julie about how the "art" of cooking can and does release stress. It is instant gratification to take on a new recipe and see it turn out somewhat like the picture in the recipe book. I love the challenge and the creativity of it all. I do not however see myself being any where near as adventurous as she. I will admit that with age my taste buds have matured, but I am still quite squeamish about unfamiliar foods. Having spent most of my life in the deep south I have come to the following conclusion...if someone says it "tastes like chicken"...then just give me chicken. I KNOW chicken and I don't need to prove anything to my intestinal track nor impress my fellow table inhabitants by eating something I would step on had I spied it on my kitchen floor. OH...and if someone offers the instructions to just swallow it whole...that's a dead give away to me there's a reason it wasn't meant to make friends with my palette and so it is best left on the serving platter. I will confess to once eating snails...I will also confess to having consumed a bit too much wine before I did. He was very handsome and had the most romantic french accent...he probably could have convinced me ALPO was a delicacy, but that was many years ago!

Okay...so how is this leading to the title of today's post? I mentioned in my most recent post that I have been feeling a bit down. Today I was just plain blah. I don't think it was so much to do with my mood as it was to do with that Nyquil coma I mentioned in yesterday's post. I was feeling tired and realizing that I needed to keep myself moving so as to be able to get through the day. That is when it occurred to me I should make some Italian pastry. I made my first batch of Pasticiottis right before Christmas. I had been pining for their sweet deliciousness, but we have no Italian pastry shops in the south and so for most of my life they have remained but a tasty, distant memory. Right before the holidays I got this crazy idea that I should find a recipe and attempt to make them myself. I alerted my family to my quest and thanks to Google I was able to find what I was searching for. The first time I made them it literally took me hours and I found myself covered from head to toe in flour while surrounded by what appeared to be every measuring cup, spoon and bowl that I owned. I reluctantly took my first bite and although they were edible and a huge hit with my family...they were "missing something." I waited a day or two and made another batch. It is safe to say that by the time New Year's arrived I had made dozens and had perfected the recipe well enough that when a dear friend had offered to have some shipped down to me while she was up North visiting relatives, I thanked her, but declined.

Today, I again gathered up all my ingredients. I must admit I was amazed at the way I breezed through the steps. I have perfected the amount of time each step takes. I can have the custard filling to the exact cooled temperature it needs to be in the time that it takes me to make the dough. OH...and the dough...today as I mixed the ingredients together with my hands it formed in to the perfect soft ball as detailed in the instructions. As I dipped the pastry brush in to the egg wash, I can not put in to words the feelings of accomplishment and pride I felt as I gently coated each of my little works of art in their egg bath. Both my dogs patiently at my feet in hopes that I might drop a morsel or two...I suddenly felt a deep connection to Julie as if she was there with me and together we were enjoying this one special moment in time that nobody else could understand. I got it...and I got her...and I KNEW why she needed to do what she did. I am proud to say I not only had all the bowls and cups washed and put away before the timer on the oven went off...I had enough time left to pour a nice glass of chardonnay and quietly toast a woman named Julie Powell. A women whom I will probably never meet, but feel as though I know intimately. Cheers Julie! OH...and Thanks! : )

An Unexpected Vision

*** I had started on this post yesterday. I guess under my self induced Nyquil coma I had hit the wrong button last night and it didn't publish after all. I will just pick up where I left off...

I don't know why, but today the site of the tree is depressing me. In fact, everything is depressing me. In all honesty the past few days have hung like a dark cloak. I can't shake the gloominess. I don't know what it is. I know that it is not like me to feel so down and that in itself is making it worse because I keep telling myself I shouldn't be feeling this way. Shake out of it!!! I turn to look at the tree once more from where I sit in my office. It strikes me as sad. The hanging masks steer back with lifeless eyes as if even the tree senses something is wrong. Perhaps it is feeling the sadness of the world. I am lost in thought when the sound of a new email in my inbox catches my attention. It is from a dear friend whom I don't get to speak with very often which makes it a pleasant surprise. I am somewhat relieved to read that she too is struggling over some of life's bigger questions. Not that I wish to see her miserable, but it lets me know that we all go through it. We write a few lines back and forth and before long we are sharing laughter over the miles that separate us. I mention how I woke to another thrown up fur ball from my cat on the carpet. I confess that I read through all the posts on Facebook and it irritates me to see how many people are so darned happy. I ask...do you think they really are...can it be??? Don't any of these people wake up to cat throw up I ask? She laughs. She understands. I decide it's time to just step away from the computer for the day. As I do, the sun decides to make an appearance for the first time all day just in time for it to set. It casts a beautiful glow in to my dining room and illuminates the tree in such a magnificent way that it appears to be enjoying some kind of celebration. I once again get lost in the vision of it only now I am warmed and renewed by its jubilation.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Fabulous Buy!!!

I am so excited! I just returned from a shopping trip to Garden Ridge. When I was there a week or so ago I was so focused on the Mardi Gras tree that I hadn't thought to look for items for the upcoming Valentine's day tree. I remembered seeing some Cherub ornaments and since I already have a concept of a Victorian Themed tree in mind...they were the perfect accessory. Today was my lucky day as they still had a nice supply available as well as some beautiful red glass ornaments. I got 36 ( well actually 35 as one was broken ) glass ornaments and 9 assorted cherubs for a grand total of $5.09!!! WOW! Everything was 90% off...a bargain shoppers dream come true!
I want to personally thank my beautiful ( oh and single...incase anyone is interested. Hope Marianne giggles over that one! ) cashier at our Garden Ridge here in Kennesaw Georgia. Should you venture in, look for Marianne and say hello! She's so much fun! I have a feeling she and I will be seeing a lot of one another over this year long experiment/experience.
I was not able to find the red beaded garland that they had the last time I was there. If anyone has a resource they could share that would be great. If I can't get my hands on the beaded garland, I will do something with ribbon. Still plenty of time to research and plan before it's time to change out the decorations.
Stay tuned....

Saturday, January 16, 2010

A Big Thank You!

I just knew when I started on this year long experiment that there would be more to it than met the eye. I had hoped that it would engage people and give people permission to be who THEY want to be...not what other's expect. The overall theme...HAVE FUN! I am so enjoying the feedback I am receiving and love that there are others who want to join the journey. I would like to publicly thank Miss Jane Ann Lance for her generous donation of authentic Mardi Gras beads which she offered to send to me from her home in Alabama. I felt like a kid in a candy store when I opened up the box to find her wonderful gift. The moment I placed them on the tree, it just seemed to come ALIVE! I encourage you to check out Jane's website at http://www.enhancedbylance.com/ Jane Ann is a very talented Real Estate Home Stager. Another friend, Janet Gibson Wood commented on one of the photos that the tree looked like a piece of art. I LOVE that! Now that the tree is completely decorated I wish to do something to honor it even more. Putting on my thinking cap...It is my desire that with each month and change of decorations...the occasion can be celebrated in a unique and memorable way. For now however...I will just enjoy each day as it is. Another reminder that yesterday is past, tomorrow isn't guaranteed so LIVE and celebrate TODAY!

Friday, January 15, 2010

As if Night Sweats Weren't Enough Reason for Insomnia

Day 7 ***

I titled this post If Night Sweats Weren't Enough Reason for Insomnia because lack of sleep has been a running theme in my life for a few months now. In fact, for those of you who don't personally know me, I have used those many sleepless nights to launch a new business and write a book.

Now I find myself suffering a different form of insomnia. For the past few nights I have tossed and turned unable to quiet down my brain and the images of future tree themes. I keep a bed side journal for my late night bursts of creativity. I realize that there is a lot more work involved than meets the eye as not only do I need to decide on a theme, but the ability to pull it off for little money. I have already put some of my closest girlfriends on alert for future "have glue gun, will travel" parties. Luckily, I have some amazing and supportive girlfriends who would do anything to come to my rescue. OK...maybe that's a little dramatic. It's more like they would show up for wine and an excuse to get out of their own houses.

Today's mission is to locate just a few more items for the Mardi Gras theme so I can post the photo by the end of the weekend. I have already conceived some interesting ways to decorate the tree over the next few months so I will also be looking for those supplies as well. Anyone up for making a garland of peeps and jelly beans? I have WINE!!!!

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Demolition Day

I finally found the time to remove the Christmas decorations from the tree in the dining room to make way for our year long celebration. Can I just tell you...some times it takes just as long, if not longer to take down the decorations. I think for me it's the last time to absorb all that was before placing it away to welcome all that will be. I mentioned in an earlier post the story behind keeping the tree up until New Year's Day. I would start the demolition process every Dec. 26th. I did this for years and years until a friend pointed out that it was bad luck to remove a tree before New Years day and in fact...we were supposed to celebrate the twelve days of Christmas. During my continuing research for this blog...I have since found that many people believe it is bad luck to keep the tree up in to the New Year. They believe the tree should be packed away prior to New Year's day. They reason you must remove the old in order to make way for the new. I am not a very superstitious person. I believe that whatever works for you is what works for you. It is just another way that we put the opinions and beliefs of others before our own. Hold dear to your own belief systems!!! I did welcome in a new tradition this year. My friend Nanette said that at the strike of midnight on New Year's eve you are suppose to open up your back door and take a broom to symbolically sweep away the troubles and sorrows from the previous year. After that is finished you are to open the front door to allow all the blessings and new energy to flow in to the house.
My youngest ( who is the only one who seems to have the stamina to watch the ball drop every year ) was very excited to partake in this new twist. If you BELIEVE it works...it WORKS! And even if it doesn't, it will forever be one of my fondest memories with my son of which I hope to repeat over and over again.
Until next time....

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Did You Know???

Back from a fun time looking for mardi gras supplies for the tree. Found some fabulous things from the Christmas display aisles now 75 to 90% off! When it comes time to make the topper for the tree I will either attempt a big Jester Hat with bells...OR...I really wanted to do something elegant with ribbon and peacock feathers. I couldn't find any peacock feathers in my store searches today so I decided to go on line. Well...look what I found....VERY INTERESTING...

In an article titled Why is it considered bad luck to bring peacock feathers in to the home, here is the response....

It has to do with the beautiful, eye-shaped markings on the peacock feathers. Many cultures associate them with the evil eye, and to bring the evil eye into your home is to invite trouble and sorrow.The association between peacocks and the evil eye is illustrated by the Greek myth of Argus, the monster whose body was covered with 100 eyes. He was turned into a peacock, with his eyes all over his tail feathers.The "evil eye" is the belief that someone (especially witches) can curse you by looking at you in a certain way. Cultures throughout the world and throughout time have come up with various ways of warding off the eye. You can read more about it at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Evil_eye


"Hey Mister...Throw me some beads!!!"

On Day 4 of my Year in the Life of a Christmas Tree Experiment

I am headed out today in hopes of finding some great decorations for the tree. The overwhelming response has been to decorate the tree for Mardi Gras. I have never personally participated in a Mardi Gras celebration so I have been doing my research about the history and traditions of the holiday. I can already tell that this is going to be the biggest test for me and the ability to keep the tree up all year long. I am not a fan of the colors associated with the holiday and so the thought of looking at them for a few weeks time is already making me a little wobbly in the knees.

I discovered the following information about the beads and the colors of purple, gold and green while doing my research. These colors were introduced by the Rex organization during his first roll. Purple represents Justice; Green represents Faith and Gold represents Power. OKAY...if I can just wrap my mind around the representations of Justice, Faith and Power; I should be able to not only tolerate the tree, but truly embrace it in all its whimsy.

I will reward my efforts at some point with a King Cake. Let the celebration begin...

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Day 3 of my experiment, what have I learned so far?

I had no idea when I started on this experiment, that I would get such wonderful feedback and support from numerous friends. I must admit I'm feeling a bit like the character Julie in the movie Julie and Julia. Thankfully however, I won't need to be doing something every single day through out this year like Julie had to. I have no desire to learn how to dress a duck. Although I would be up for the challenge, I would prefer to clothe him in a bow tie and top hat to sit as a guest at the table, not as a guest on it.

I am still questioning my fortitude to seeing this through an entire year. I have a pretty full plate as it is already. I blog twice a week as a contracted blogger, I am still in the process of editing my first book, I am launching a brand new business and hosting a new talk show. Given all the distractions, I see the tree as a symbolic reminder of living my life to the fullest and having fun! It represents to me my ability to honor myself more than I fret over the opinions of others. Viva la Tree!!!

I am posting a picture of the tree in its holiday glory...Next stop...decorations to turn it in to a Mardi Gras celebration. Let the party begin!!!

Sunday, January 10, 2010

A Question of Avoidance or Adventure?

I updated my status today on FB about my Christmas tree idea. I felt like if I put it out there, I would be committed. One of my favorite FB friends didn't miss a beat by saying it sounded more like an issue of avoidance. She is just too good! : ) Yes, Susan...I'm talking about YOU!
I look at this experiment as a means to really test my limits. To be quiet honest, I am usually over the Christmas tree thing Dec. 26th. I always removed my trees the following day until someone warned me it was bad luck to not keep my tree up until at least New Year's ( more on that subject later as well ). The fact that my tree is still standing is a HUGE breakthrough for me. It hasn't gnawed at my nerves yet. I did take down all the other Christmas decor...but the truth is, this tree sets in my highly under used and totally unappreciated dining room. The only time that room seems to have any life at all is at Christmas time. I would like to believe that this year long experiment ( err experience ) will keep light and life in that room to be enjoyed and anticipated. You can kind of see the tree from the front window so my neighbor's may think I have lost my mind but you know what...let em! I think that's just another thing that I am finding so exciting about this project. It is a testament to the fact that I truly have reached a stage in life where the opinions of other's don't matter as much. Life is too short! It's time to accept that it is OK to march to a beat of a different drummer...your drum! Let the fun begin....

In the Beginning

Starting Date January 09,2010.

My son and I have come to a fun thought. We have decided to leave one of our Christmas trees up all year long and decorate it for a different occasion suitable to each month. To be quite honest, this all started because I commented that I could not believe that I had allowed a Christmas tree to remain up as long as this one had. I am the type of person who can not wait to get the trees (yes trees...more about that later ) up and decorated, but as soon as the holiday is over I am ready for them to be gone...usually the following day. Jokingly, I told my husband knowing with certainty that he would tell me I was crazy and put a kibosh to the whole idea. You would think after nearly 26 years of marriage you should know and expect certain reactions from your spouse. Well...this is becoming a definite first of many firsts...he not only did not tell me I was crazy, but I think he's actually getting in to the project as well. Seriously beginning to wonder what I have gotten myself in to....