Fork, Knife, Spoon Table!

IMG_1193 IMG_1194OK, since all the election ads made it seem shameless self-promotion is not only allowed but encouraged, here I go.

My dear friend Nette gave me this paper runner on a roll after she spotted it at a little shop. She can’t remember WHAT shop, so sorry I can’t share that info with you, but I loved that she found a “fork, knife, spoon” thing and bought it for me! (My sister Judy also jumped on the band wagon, and sent me some mini utensils dangling from earrings, but those were too small to photograph well, so just use your imagination.) 

No recipe to share, just these pics of my table with my blog-themed runner! I paired it with dark gray bandanas from Walmart for napkins. (When I bought these, they were $1.99 a piece…) The napkin rings are pewter tea pots I got from Good Things in White Bear Lake many moons ago. The plates are rimmed in navy with a cream center. Simple, but clean and classic. Enjoy.

Fall Display Pots

FullSizeRenderKale, swiss chard, and Jerusalem cherries make an interesting combo for fall pots—these happen to greet guests at my front door. The summer lime green sweet potato ivy was getting a little leggy, and the coleus had grown gargantuan, so it was time to refresh my entryway buckets with plants that love it cool and crisp. I ripped most of the plants out and put in this grouping, leaving only the green spikey thing (can’t remember what it’s called…) in the middle.

The feathery golden ornamental grass at the back adds a nice texture, something understated needed with everything else being so showy and attention-seeking. In the past, I’ve put in one tall spike or grass, and filled the rest of the bucket with different kinds of kale. But they didn’t have the variety in colors and textures I wanted this year, so I tried something new, proving you can teach an old dog new tricks. (FYI, these plants are all from Bachman’s—the nursery with the most selection close to my home.) While the rainbow Swiss chard IS edible, many signs warned the Jerusalem cherries are NOT. Apparently they’re quite poisonous to pets and kids! So I’m not sure if that will affect the Swiss chard growing in the same soil or not, if we wanted to chop some up for dinner. I know my husband Rich is just dying to try the chard…again, NOT. 

Gingerbread City Under Glass

FullSizeRenderMost gingerbread houses can put you into a sugar coma just by glimpsing the confections, dripping with achingly sweet icing, and loaded with candy canes, gumdrops, and peppermint discs. I’ve made my share of gingerbread structures with my kids—either making the dough from scratch and assembling the houses, or using graham crackers for the house, and getting right to the decorating fun. But the cost for all that candy really adds up! And then it seems like a waste to buy all those tasty treats, and then never actually eat them, right? So when I saw this gingerbread city featured in Better Homes and Garden magazine in December 2013, I was intrigued. No messy, sticky frosting? No bulk candy to buy? I’m in!

While I got my templates from the magazine, there is a simple template for the building dimensions online (to download it, you may be required to sign up for receiving emails from BH&G). The template is just the basic shapes—how you define the buildings will require you to call on your own creative juices. Scoring the windows, doors, and rooftops is what gives the 2-D houses their character, and gives the powdered sugar a place to settle and create the frosty outlines on the buildings. It was the easiest, neatest gingerbread project ever! My college-age son helped me, and we were both pleased with the process as well as the end result. And the gingerbread tasted great, too. 

You will need a 2-gallon glass canister, like the Anchor Hocking one pictured here. (I got mine at Walmart.) And you will need to pour a couple inches of granulated sugar into the bottom of the container to anchor the houses, which seems like a waste of sugar again. Not so, Santa’s little helper! If you keep the lid on your “city,” you can re-use the sugar for baking after the holidays are over. And the added benefit is that the sugar smells heavenly from having had gingerbread nestled in it, and it actually enhances your baked goods. So if you’re done with all your shopping, wrapping, and baking, and are just sitting around twiddling your thumbs until Christmas comes (ha!), take some time to create memories with this gorgeous centerpiece.

Makes about 6 buildings, and extra dough for trees, etc. About 72 servings.

5 cups all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon ground ginger
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon ground white pepper
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 cup butter, softened (2 sticks)
1 cup packed dark brown sugar
1/2 cup molasses
1 egg
1/2 cup milk
Powdered sugar for decorating
Granulated sugar for decorating

In a large bowl combine the flour, ginger, baking powder, salt, white pepper, cinnamon, and nutmeg. Set aside.

In a large mixing bowl beat together the butter, brown sugar, and molasses on high speed until light and fluffy. Add egg and beat until smooth. Add half the flour mixture; beat until just combined. Add milk; beat until just combined. Add remaining flour mixture; beat until just combined. Using your hands, knead dough until smooth then divide in half. Wrap each dough half with plastic wrap and chill for 30 minutes.

Preheat oven to 350° Fahrenheit. Roll each dough half on parchment paper into about a 15×10-inch rectangle. Using a sharp knife, score free-form building and rooftop shapes (or use templates) on each sheet of dough without cutting through dough. Using a cookie cutter, cut out trees. Transfer each parchment sheet of dough to a 15×10-inch baking pan. Remove excess dough scraps. Using a straight edge or knife, add brick and window scores without cutting completely through dough.

Bake 10 minutes. Remove from oven. Carefully cut along scored lines of building and roof shapes. Bake 10 minutes more or until firm. Remove from oven. Cook completely on a wire rack. Separate gingerbread pieces.

Sprinkle powdered sugar over cookies and gently rub in. Cover with waxed paper and let stand for 30 minutes or up to 24 hours. Arrange cookies in 2-gallon glass container filled with 2 to 3 inches of granulated sugar to help stabilize cookies.

Wheatgrass Pots

IMG_0800“Grass” and “pot” in one blog title—I’m just asking for some serious ribbing from my offspring with this post. But the teasing will be worth it, cause I love these charming little winter wheatgrass table toppers. The first image shows grass seeds that were grown indoors for 2 weeks, and have been trimmed once to even out the wheatgrass growth. Before I show other photos, let me give you instructions for growing these. It’s not hard, but you have to plan ahead a couple weeks if you want these on your table for a specific event. Some people love to have wheatgrass on hand to throw in smoothies, or to juice and drink just plain. My reason for growing it was for the pop of bright green on the table, and not for nutritional benefits. I don’t think my husband would tolerate me putting grass in his food. If he knew, that is.

For wheatgrass pots

Terra cotta pots
(I used 5″ azalea or orchid pots, which are more squat than other pots, and give more surface area for growing grass.)
Terra cotta saucers to fit pots
Potting soil (with peat moss and vermiculite, etc.)
Winter wheatgrass seeds
Large clear plastic bags
Twist ties

Loosely cover hole in bottom of terra cotta pot with a stone or shard of broken pot. This will keep the dirt from leaking out when watering the pots. Add dirt to pot to about 1-inch from top. Sprinkle generous amount of seeds onto dirt, covering 75-85% of surface. You do not want area completely covered with seeds or they will choke each other out. But a decent amount of seed is needed, or the grown grass will be sparse. Top the seeds with a sprinkling of dirt, just enough to cover the seeds, about 1/4-inch.

IMG_0734Water the pots and let them drain in the sink for a bit. Put pots on saucers, then fit clear plastic bag over top of pot and saucer, fill with air, and secure bag with twist tie. Make sure bag is loose to allow for sprouting of grass. Place in sunny spot. Bag will create a mini-terrarium, and these will not need water until the grass is a few inches long, about 7-10 days.

Condensation will form on the top of the plastic, as you can see in the photo. (You can’t really see it, but the grass seed has sprouted and is almost ready to be uncovered.) Once most of the wheatgrass has sprouted and is about 3-inches tall, you can uncover the pots and leave them in a sunny spot to continue filling out. At about 14 days you will probably want to trim the grass evenly. This is the point the pots should be ready for displaying on your table or counter top. Water the pots every couple of days, when the dirt feels dry on top. The grass tends to start dying off about 4 weeks after seeds were started, probably because it gets root-bound in small containers.

Once your grass is grown, you can jazz these up a bit. The first time I grew wheatgrass was for my son’s wedding. We grew a couple dozen 8.5″ pots of grass indoors, and used them on the tables at his summer wedding reception. My daughter-in-law hand-lettered numbers onto cute little signs to stick in each pot, but I don’t seem to have a picture of the finished product. (In know, I know…bad mother-in-law!) Oh, they were darling! And they fit our frugal-wedding budget—roughly $5 per centerpiece.

Then I grew these one spring when my youngest son was drumming up clients for his lawn mowing business. I made signs that said, “Mitchell won’t KEEP OFF THE GRASS. He’s ready to mow your lawn for you…” with his contact information at bottom. I cut out the signs and glued them to corrugate (one of my favorite crafting materials), and stuck a bamboo skewer in the signs. (You have to be sure the channels for the corrugate are running straight up and down on the signs in order for the skewer system to work, so double-check corrugate direction before gluing the signs down. Learned that the hard way.) We brought these to his current clients, and those who had expressed interest in his services. I’m sure these—as well as his magnetic personality—helped secure a couple extra clients that year.

The versatility of the sign-on-a-stick is shown in other pictures. There’s an example of a birthday party centerpiece using the three little pots, breaking up “birth” and “day,” because after all, you are celebrating the day of one’s birth, right? You could also do a sign with a poetic saying like the Maya Angelou quote here, “Try to be a rainbow in someone’s cloud.” I personally couldn’t get away with this. There’s too much testosterone around my table for me to indulge in feminine whimsy. But go ahead and try an idea like this in YOUR home!