Sunday, November 24, 2013

Vacation Keepsakes

Multiple times during our New England vacation, Bob and I would find ourselves attracted to a souvenir, waiting for one person to make the move to purchase. Then we would shrug and say, "eh, we're on vacation, let's get it!"

We've got a pretty good track record of sentimental keepsakes from our vacations. We bypass the touristy shops filled with snowglobes and picture frames, and instead focus on finding decor for our home. I will admit that while in London I sought out a tiny telephone booth and walked into every tourist shop I could to find the perfect size. And I still ended up buying one that is actually a toy bank.
In Egypt, we set our sights early in the trip on bringing home a set of alabaster vases. These were all over the place, complete with Tourist Trap attractions to test out making your own.
We found this set of three at a bazaar, and after some tough negotiations they were all ours. The vases glow when a tea light is placed inside, and we've used them for table decor during dinner parties and holidays to help set the mood.
We also bought a papyrus that eventually got framed for our hallway. More about the story of this papyrus here.
Our honeymoon trip to Belize gave us this little wooden bird, who now lives on a shelf in our living room. 
So now it was New England's turn to make us some memories. In Vermont we found ourselves stopping at a giant warehouse of a store called The Christmas Loft. Sure, it was September, but as a girl obsessed with ornaments and holiday decor, I knew this had to be a stop. We walked away with a little Jim Shore Halloween ornament who fit in quite nicely on the mantel this year.
I had to snap a picture of the Jim Shore wall for my sister. She collects the Santas and I think her collection is starting to rival The Christmas Loft's!
I've wanted a Nutcracker for awhile now, but haven't been a fan of the glitzy and glittery ones I always see in the stores nowadays. When we saw this little fellow (he stands just about 11 inches) and felt how soft his fur hat was, we looked past the $90 price tag and had him wrapped up. "Eh, we're on vacation. Let's get it!"
As we prepared to leave Burlington, Vermont, we stopped at the Farmer's Market to see what the area had to offer and to grab a snack for the road. You don't usually see booths set up selling alcohol, let alone giving out samples at 10 in the morning, but the allure of gin infused with honey was enough for Bob to plunk down the Visa for this offering from Caledonia Spirits
At the Canterbury Shaker Village in New Hampshire, Bob and I followed the 90 minute tour up with a gift shop stop. I've always loved Shaker furniture - I think it goes back to a high chair we always had in our house growing up made in the style. We picked up a medium sized wooden box in light blue. Still looking for the perfect place in the house for this one.
I couldn't pass up this carefully crafted wooden ornament. I really need to watch myself this year. I think last holiday season I was gifted or bought myself at least 10 ornaments. Our trees need to get bigger if I'm going to be going at this rate.
The cute shops in Bar Harbor, Maine were plentiful. Bob was drawn to some canvas paintings he saw at a shop called Spruce & Gussy. This one by Linda Rowell-Kelley found a place on our wall.
Wait, let me give you some size perspective. Can you find it? Small but mighty, we noticed after putting it up that the lamplight shines perfectly onto it like a little spotlight. 
What do you tend to buy when you are on vacation? Are you adding to a shot glass collection, or maybe going the Christmas ornament route? Am I being too judgmental of the tourist stores that seem to have an endless supply of witty t-shirts ("Unbelizeable!") and magnets shaped like states?

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Harvest Party 2013

Bob and I set out to host our annual harvest party, this year focusing on a dinner theme as opposed to standing room only a la last year's Appsgiving.

We narrowed down an invite list for a total of 12 and got to work on a menu. Here was the line up:

Rosemary and Cranberry Spread
Chef Michael's Corn and Crab Bisque
White Truffle Risotto
Store bought Rolls
Prosciutto-wrapped Chicken with Fennel and Apples
Roasted Carrots with Feta and Parsley
Slow Cooker Caramel Apple Crisp
Individual Pumpkin Breads to take home

Pinterest served me well for this dinner - the cheese spread, risotto, carrots and apple crisp were all new recipes to me and found through the site. 

First up, our simple appetizers of crackers and cheese. With a multi-course meal ahead of us, I didn't want to overdo the number of options we gave guests when they first got in, nor did I want to spend my whole day leading up to the dinner making bite-sized treats. 

This spread was insanely easy and definitely on the "make it again" list. Rosemary, garlic powder and dried cranberries, plus a little salt and pepper, folded into 16 oz of cream cheese? Yes, please. 
All we had to do was mix it up, smash it onto a serving platter and keep the crackers flowing. The little bit we had leftover was used the next day as a sandwich spread.
The crab and corn bisque was a recipe I received from my time at the New Orleans School of Cooking a couple months back as part of a work team building activity. They broke us out into teams and made our meals into a competition. Alas, my team did not win big, but we did get to take home all of the recipes.  I learned a few tips that weren't part of the written recipe, including throwing the corn cobs into the pot while it boils to suck in even more flavor (just be sure to remove prior to adding the next round of ingredients!)
I forgot to get a shot of all the soups post-serving, so this shot of the crab at the bottom of everyone's bowl will have to do. It's a nice trick to make sure the crab does not lose flavor by being added to the pot too early, and also allows non-seafood lovers to sample the soup without a fishy surprise. Our splurge of the party was the $20 can of crabmeat from the grocery store. Very glad we decided to bypass the vacuum-sealed packs of imitation crab once we got a taste of this soup.
Bob handled the risotto, which included a lovely mix of cauliflower, wild mushrooms, pancetta and parmesan cheese. 
Speaking of pancetta, check out how thick these pieces from Whole Foods were. Ooh, boy.
We passed around a small bottle of truffle oil for folks to dab a bit onto the tops of their dishes and it really helped add to the flavor.
Our main dish was a repeat in our house, so I'll point back to the post with the recipe. However, we had to triple it for the dinner party purposes. These two cookie sheets were weighed down with fennel bulbs, apples, oil-drenched sage, prosciutto and chicken all seasoned with salt and pepper.
Once the baked carrots were in a bowl and topped with parsley and feta, I think it was one of the prettiest dishes we've ever made! We sliced up a bag of carrots, covered them in olive oil and added them to the oven for the last 20 minutes or so of our chicken baking. With the fennel and apples, this was all we needed for a side dish.
Finally, the crockpot dessert. I figured I would use the crockpot for at least one course to let us set it and forget it while the other dishes took up our Saturday afternoon. I had increased the size of the recipe, so actually filled two slow cookers with this dish! Glad I kept our old one around for times like these!
It was a good recipe, but I think I would agree with commenters that the filling can be a bit overpowering and can probably be decreased a bit. We served with a scoop of vanilla.
A post dinner treat, and a reason to break out our champagne flutes, we opened a bottle of Ice Cider I received last summer on a trip to Montreal. Everyone got just a little taste, but that is really all you need for something so sweet. Again, our serving style was quicker than my camera, so we have to settle for a photo of the aftermath!
As for the logistics, we bought a $30 card table and tablecloth from Target, borrowed 4 folding chairs from my sister and created a centerpiece that tied the two tables together. We had three other chairs in our house to make 11, but Bob found himself sitting at an ottoman. As I looked at him from the opposite end of the table, he was just a tad shorter than everyone else! 

Although our wedding registry provided us with plates, bowls and silverware aplenty, dinner for twelve certainly tested our organization with available place settings! Our official set is for 10, so we mixed and matched just a bit for the dinner and decided to go disposable for the dessert bowls. And you know what, it didn't make a bit of difference to everyone enjoying the meal!
Our dishwasher ran on overdrive through the weekend, but other than that clean up was surprisingly a breeze. I think it is because when we have a party I'm usually using platters and entertaining ware that do not easily fit in the dishwasher and have to be hand cleaned.

Earlier that morning, I made a set of little breads with a pumpkin bread recipe I love. 
Everyone got a little take home gift to get them through breakfast the next week, or next day if they were so inclined (I can really stretch these things out, but they are tempting to eat in one sitting!). The gift bags can be found in the baking section of Michaels. Just be sure to check sizes. Last time I went, I got bags that were meant for regular sized loaves because I didn't read the packaging. Unfortunately, this is a common mistake I tend to make in my purchases.
So how are you celebrating fall with your friends? Or are you saving all of your marathon eating for Turkey Day, which is somehow right around the corner?

Want more Fall themed recipes? Check out these posts through the bloggin' years:
Appsgiving (2012)
Hosting Thanksgiving (2011)
Harvest Party (2010)
Harvest Party (2009)