Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Spring Decor and a Special Spring Recipe

We're partnering with Social Couture this week! Stop by and read their post on hosting a lovely spring brunch!

cherry blossoms

Spring is almost here! Freshen up your home with springtime decorations. Each spring festival has its own set of symbols we can use to decorate our homes, but in general I decorate my home with green boughs, branches, potted spring flowers, and all the symbols of rebirth: bunnies, eggs, chicks, and ducks.

In your garden, find a nicely shaped barren branch or a spring branch with budding flowers. To preserve freshness, smash the bottom of the branch with a hammer so it will better absorb water. Place the branches in a tall vase of water. Decorate the branch with tiny symbols of the season: blow out eggshells and tie them with a ribbon, tie skinny pastel ribbons in bows with long tails, and set tiny figurines of bunnies, chicks, or ducks amid the twigs. Display in a hallway or on a mantle for a striking spring statement.

Find a hand-hewn willow basket about five and a half inches (14 centimeters) high. Line it with plastic and set small, colorful spring plants still in their containers inside the basket. Between the containers, put moss from a floral-supply store or home-decor store. This makes a charming centerpiece on a dining room table or as a beautiful explosion of color anywhere in the home. Be sure to water it regularly, misting the moss occasionally to revive its bright green color.

easter eggs

Find unusual vessels like 1960's Danish modern coffee pots or tall heavy cut crystal vases and fill them with branches or pussy willows.

Fill old silver-plate trays that are about ten inches (25 centimeters) long and about three inch (7.5 centimeters) deep with faux moss or grass. Nestle some pale-colored faux eggs in the moss and place the trays around the house.

Find some fun, vintage-looking bunnies, eggs, or birds and create a small tableau on an old silver tray. Pair with votives or a dramatic par of candlesticks to center the scene. Place in a prominent spot such as on a sideboard, the center of the dining table, or on a kitchen island.

coconut cream pie

Coconut Cream Pie

This delectable cream pie is a wonderful mixture of lightly toasted coconut and dense homemade cream base with hints of velvety vanilla. I love the combination of the slightly salty crust, the creamy filling, and the crunch of the toasted coconut. This pie makes a lovely spring dessert and a culinary treat.


1/2 recipe (1 ball) My Mom's Extra-Flaky Pie Crust Dough (see below)
1 1/2 cups (114 g) shredded sweetened coconut
5 large eggs, beaten
2 1/2 cups (592 ml) whole milk
3/4 cup (150 g) sugar
1/4 cup (32 g) cornstarch
1/4 teaspoon (1.5 g) fine sea salt
3 to 5 tablespoons (52 to 70 g) unsalted butter, cut into small cubes
1 1/2 tablespoons (22 ml) vanilla

Preheat the oven to 350 F (177 C) (Gas mark 4). Roll the dough out to a circle 1/8-inch (3 mm) thick and fit it into a 9-inch (23 cm) pie pan. Trim and flute the edge. Line with parchment paper and fill with dried beans, rice, or metal pie weights. Bake for 20 minutes, until browned. Transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.

Lower the oven temperature to 300 F (149 C) (Gas mark 2).

Spread the coconut on a baking sheet. Toast until golden brown, 5 to 7 minutes. Let cool at room temperature.

In a medium bowl, using an electric mixer, beat the eggs until light yellow. Set aside.

In a small saucepan, bring the milk to the scalding point; you'll know the milk has reached the right temperature when a "skin" forms on top of the liquid.

In the top of a double boiler off the heat, whisk together the sugar, cornstarch, and salt, then whisk in the heated milk until thoroughly combined. Put the pan over simmering water in the bottom part of the double boiler, then gradually add the beaten eggs, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon. Remove from the heat and blend in the butter with an electric mixer. Stir in the vanilla.

Stir in 1 1/4 cups (127 g) of the toasted coconut, then spoon the mixture into the cooled pie shell and top with the remaining coconut. Cover with wax paper and refrigerate until cold. Serve.

My Mom's Extra-Flaky Pie Crust Dough

Make sure that you don't work the dough too much or the crust will be tough and not flaky.


4 cups (512 g) all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon (6 g) finely ground sea salt
1 1/2 cups (3 sticks) (340 g) cold organic unsalted butter, cut into cubes
1/8 cup (28 g) cold organic vegetable shortening
1/2 cup (125 ml) ice water

Put the flour and salt in a food processor and pulse to combine. Add the butter in small pieces and shortening and pulse until the mixture resembles fine cornmeal.

While pulsing the motor, slowly add the 1/2 cup (125 ml) ice water through the feed tube. If the dough has not formed a ball, add a little more water, pulsing until the dough forms a firm ball. Do not overprocess or the dough will be tough. Divide the dough ball in half and wrap each ball in plastic wrap. Set aside in the refrigerator for 1 hour before processing with the pie recipe.

Happy Spring!

With love,

Friday, February 24, 2012

Back to the Basics: The Importance of Small Gestures

I read a wonderful article in The New York Times the other day. It was a small ode to Jeffrey Zaslow. He is a recently deceased author whose writing centered on the themes of love, commitment and living in the moment. Jeffrey is best known for co-authoring The Last Lecture with Professor Randy Pausch, who gave a poignant TED Talk about what truly matters in life, clarity he received after he was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. 

The people and stories Jeffrey wrote about were not sweeping. The ideas in his work were not revolutionary. In fact, some might even call them timeworn. One story Jeffrey wrote told the story of a judge who always made sure to tell his family “I love you” before walking out the door. Another op-ed for The Wall Street Journal focused on raising our sons to be considerate in romance.

The article quoted Jeff in why it’s important to write about the basic tenets of a good life. His reason is worth sharing:      

“What I like about my job is sometimes I’m just writing about the obvious. By doing that, you can touch a lot of people and tell them things that will change their lives, even if it’s something simple.”

I feel the same way about this blog—the themes and suggestions I post here are nothing new or astonishing. They’re simply important ideas worth revisiting every now and again. Writing about obvious ideas and small gestures can remind us how important they are.  

Small Gestures That Go a Long Way Towards Love

-Picking a single flower and giving it to someone you care about

-Writing a small note—one or two lines long—to a friend or family member you don’t talk to very often telling them you’re thinking of them and wanted to say hello

-Making a cup or tea or coffee for someone you live with at the end of a long day

-Paying a compliment to a stranger on the street

-Making eye contact, saying hello, and genuinely asking, “How are you?” to your clerk next time you buy something at the store

With love,

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Extending Childhood and Revisiting Childhood Pleasures

Make sure to check out the blog Moore Minutes' post on family dinner show and tells here! What a fantastic way to re-establish family connections and help extend childhood.

soccer team

I find that one of the biggest challenges of rearing an elementary- or middle-school-age child in today's world is figuring out how to slow down the breakneck speed of growing up. Everything is amped up in school. Children are immediately enrolled in activities and have a heavy homework load, oftentimes within the first week of school. I'm constantly looking for ways to slow things down and allow my daughter to be a "little girl," unburdened by stress, for as long as possible.

I remember carefree afternoons spent in unstructured play as one of the best parts of my childhood because the magic of that time in one's life is based on an ability to play creatively. Spring offers us a variety of ways to change our old habits. Lightening our cuisine and eating more vegetables and less meat can be very satisfying - as well as an opportunity to lose any extra weight we may have put on during the winter months!

cherry blossoms

As the weather changes, it also means we're able to spend much more time outside - walking, exercising, and simply playing. Taking a short half-hour walk around your neighborhood is a great way to take note of nature's beauty. Another way to take advantage of the weather with your family is to play the outdoor games from your childhood - structured ones like softball or capture the flag, or more casual activities like kick the can or throwing a Frisbee. Doing something fun outdoors is quality time that also helps you stay in shape.

As the days lengthen, it's fun to incorporate  games into an early evening on a weekday or a quiet Sunday afternoon. It's a lovely way to feel young again and pass on the notion of free play to our children.

During the summer months, I purposely avoid scheduling "play dates" in advance, and instead let them happen naturally. If my daughter wants company, we simply pick up the phone and see who's around. Luckily, one of her closest friends lives across the street. This is one way I try to revive the bygone tradition of spontaneous play and unstructured free time.


To encourage play that doesn't involve computers or electronic devices, I keep a large closet stocked with old clothes and costumes from my older daughter's theater days for dress-up. I also have an open kitchen, and I invite the children to cook when they feel like it. A real childhood, rather than a never-ending preparation for adulthood, is the greatest gift we can give our children. Childhood is a time in life to protect and nurture. Encourage kids to slow down. They have their whole lives to be adults. For the time being, let your children be children.

With love,

Friday, February 10, 2012

Throw a Child's Springtime Birthday Party

This month we're partnering with Pizzazzerie, a wonderful entertaining website and blog focused on various party ideas, DIY holiday and party decor projects, recipes, and wedding advice. Head over to read more tips about children's parties and some amazing ideas for throwing your own soiree for your favorite little ones! Check out the article here.

birthday cupcakes

My older daughter Alessandra’s birthday is in May, and my younger daughter, Francesca, has a birthday that falls right after Christmas. Because the holidays are such a hectic time, I always throw Francesca’s birthday party in March. Although it’s still officially winter, I try to put a spring twist to the theme to transform the environment into a fun, colorful, light celebration that contrasts with the lavish decorations and extravagant mood of the winter holidays.
A few years ago for Francesca’s twelfth birthday, I re-created a party from my own childhood. I chose color combinations that were popular in the 60’s, and we made posters and decorations reflective of the era. Vases of hot pink gerbera daisies filled the house, trays piled high with homemade cupcakes graced the table, and in the background played the music from Across the Universe. Her guests even played vintage Barbie, a board game from my childhood. I also invited the mothers of Francesca’s friends over for a pre-party glass of Champagne. I served homemade stove-top popcorn along with pizza and a variety of organic “junk food.” We watched Francesca and her friends on what was probably the last year of their official “girlhood” and sang Francesca “Happy Birthday.” Then the girls headed downstairs with sleeping bags in tow, ready to enjoy their first independent sleepover.
board games

Rosanna’s Tips on Planning a Child’s Party
Over the past twenty years that I’ve thrown birthday parties for my daughters, I’ve learned some important lessons for how to make a birthday party successful.
  1. Pick a theme. We chose the 1960’s because we love the colors and design elements of the era. It’s often easier to come up with fun foods, decorating ideas, and party activities when you have a framework in which to brainstorm.
  2. Design a fun invitation on the computer or craft handmade invitations that define the party. Let people know that this is an event to look forward to!
  3. Play a variety of age appropriate games; the most popular at my daughter’s twelfth birthday party was the vintage Barbie game, and we also rented movies like Big, Mamma Mia!, The Parent Trap, and Grease.
  4. Provide food that’s easy to deal with and at least somewhat healthy. To accomplish these goals, I ordered pizza from a restaurant that uses fresh, local ingredients, and I made my own cupcakes from a good boxed mix that had no preservatives or additives. I made big bowls of homemade popcorn and served fun snacks like Smart Puffs and Hava Corn Chips form San Francisco (another throwback from the theme era), and for an indulgent treat, I set out bowls of colorful M&Ms.
  5. Set up a space that takes into account the interests of your child and his or her friends. For the sleepover in our basement, I piled up lots of blankets and set out big puffy floor pillows and beanbag chairs for easy movie viewing and late-night chats.

Sleepover Chocolate Chip Pancakes
These pancakes are the perfect breakfast for a pre-teen sleepover party. They are homemade and deliciously decadent served with pure Vermont maple syrup. After a long night of chatting and girl talk, this breakfast is the perfect food to accompany the last bit of silliness and joking before everyone heads home. To offset the rich, high-carbohydrate breakfast, I serve tall glasses of ice-cold organic 2 percent milk (then leave the girls to enjoy the meal on their own). Use several skillets so guests are not left waiting for their breakfasts.
1 cup (142 g) all-purpose flour
¼ cup (49 g) sugar
1 teaspoon (6 g) fine sea salt
1 teaspoon (6 g) baking powder
1 cup (250 ml) whole milk
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon (5 ml) vanilla extract
3 tablespoons (42 g) butter, melted
Canola oil
1 (10-ounce) (284 g) bag semisweet chocolate chips (you want to add about 7 or 8 chips per pancake)
Real Vermont maple syrup, for serving

Mix the flour, sugar, salt, and baking powder together in a large mixing bowl and set aside. In another bowl, whisk together the milk, eggs, vanilla, and butter. Gently pour the wet ingredients into the dry and fold to just combine.
Brush a large, heavy skillet (or several skillets) with oil, then place over medium-high heat. Using a ¼-cup (12 ml) measuring cup, scoop the batter into the skillet to form 6-inch (15 cm) pancakes. Cook until small bubbles appear on the top of the pancake, then sprinkle with chocolate chips. Flip the pancake to cook the other side until lightly browned or golden, about 4 minutes per side, or until the top is bubbling and the bottom has solidified. Serve hot, with syrup.
Have fun!
With love,