Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Five Kernels.





I'm wrapping up this thanksgiving hosting series today, and I hope you have enjoyed it. I wanted to end by sharing this tradition my family has.  Five kernels of corn are placed onto each plate before the meal, and once everyone is seated, I read the story below, aloud.  We then go around the table afterward, sharing about something that we had struggled with or found difficult over the past year, but how God had been faithful to us.  It's so much more meaningful than everyone saying what they are thankful for, before digging in, and I hope it speaks to you as it does to me..  I assembled the story, after gathering information and bits and pieces of many versions of this story all over the internet, from the past couple years so it's worded how I want it to be, for my family gathering.  Take it and tweak it or use it as is. 

Happy Thanksgiving and blessings to you and yours, 
XOXO, 
Sasha 


Do you remember the old story about how Squanto the Indian, and his Massasoit tribe helped the Pilgrims grow and gather food in order to survive, in 1620? They worked very hard to begin a new life in the new land, because they knew they could be free to worship God the way they chose. 

The harvest of 1621 was abundant for the Pilgrims.  William Bradord, their governor, had declared a day of thanksgiving for all.  He invited the local Indian chief and was quite surprised when ninety other Indian friends came with him! They all celebrated this first harvest together, with three days of feasting, games and prayers. 

Soon after, a new ship arrived from England, with even more hungry Pilgrims, seeking a new life.  Sadly, they suffered a very severe winter, and many people died from sickness and not enough food to eat.  By the following spring, all of the Pilgrims were starving.  To make matters worse, the harvest in that second year was a tragic failure.  By the springtime of 1623, they were each only allowed to eat five kernels of corn per day so that they would have enough to last until more food could be grown.  But it wasn’t so easy because they suffered drought that whole spring and summer and all of their crops were dried up.  Hungry and desperate, they turned to God in prayer because they knew He was their only hope.  They fasted and prayed for eight hours straight, asking Him to help them.  The next morning, it is said that a gentle rain began to fall on their fields and it continued for nearly two weeks, saving all of their crops. 

That November, they once again gathered to celebrate Thanksgiving but the first course of their meal was a little different.  Each person had an empty plate sitting in front of them, with only five kernels of corn on it.  They did this to remind themselves of the difficulty through which God had sustained them, and that they owed Him their very lives.  Each Pilgrim got to stand and share how God had been faithful to them in difficulty, that previous year.

When a year has been particularly hard, in our workplace, school, life, finances, relationships and circumstances, what then?  Do we still give thanks for God’s faithful love and care? Whether we’re struggling through lean times or enjoying His abundance, we can always trust God’s strength to see us through.

(“I know how to live on almost nothing or with everything.  I have learned the secret of living in every situation, whether it is with a full stomach or empty, with plenty or little.  For I can do everything with the help of Christ who gives me the strength I need.” Philippians 4:12-13)

Monday, November 20, 2017

Creating a floral arrangement for Thanksgiving

Glad to see you back here as we wind down this Thanksgiving hosting series.  I've been savoring the preparations and though I tend to enjoy the whole process, I'm down to my favorite part.  The centerpiece part!  I decided on flowers for my table this year.  I find flower arranging to be one of the most restful and enjoyable hobbies, and I believe anyone can create something beautiful with flowers. 

Now, a word on floral centerpieces.  It's important to take into account the size of the table, and the type of gathering you're hosting.  There are flowers that can be considered formal (think roses) and others that are a bit more casual (think, dahlias and mums).  Once you've assessed your type of gathering, the colors of flowers you'd prefer and what is in season, you might want to consider a few other things. Firstly, will the food service be tableside or buffet style? (If tableside, you'll want to make sure there is room around the arrangement) Height, amount or arrangements needed and what type of vessel best represents those specific types of flowers.  Keep in mind that if your arrangement is too tall it may drive people crazy while they are trying to visit across the table.  You don't want your beautiful work to get shuffled to a side table somewhere!  (I actually kept sitting on the chair and looking over the top of mine as I created, to double check that nothing was too high!) On the other hand, if flower arrangements aren't big enough they make little impact and you may want to create a few smaller arrangements, rather than one large one.

After thinking through all of the above, I decided on something long and low.  We will be going with buffet style food service which means I don't have to worry about keeping plenty of room on the table for food items.  Because my table is quite long, at nine feet, I've chosen my vessel which is also a long, narrow bowl. (It's actually our everyday fruit bowl which goes to show that your flowers can be displayed in nearly anything you want them to be in.)

I've gathered together all of my flowers, greenery, and tools. For this arrangement, I purchased Eucalyptus leaves, peach roses, peach carnations, kale flowers, and used dried oak leaves and antlers as accents. (I recommend sharp clippers or scissors, and wet floral foam.)  I will be showing you (mostly) step by step, how I createed this arrangement, so you can make one as well if you like.




Tips on Flower Arranging (from a non-expert)
*After floral foam is completely wet and placed into vessel, begin placing stems.  Once a stem is in the foam, do not try to re-arrange it. If you must move it, take it completely out, and place it in a new hole in the foam.  

*Create a sort of structure for your flowers, by placing your branches or greenery in first.  Once you have the bones of the arrangement, it's much easier to begin placing flowers and accents.  Think outside the box when it comes to making it unique.  I've added some antlers from our collection and it adds a nice fall touch.

*Make sure to turn your arrangement as you build and add flowers, so that you're not flower-heavy on one side. (Unless it will be against a wall, then go for a flower-heavy side!) 

*You won't want any leaves sitting directly in water or in the floral foam so strip the base of the stems of any leaves before you insert them into the foam or vase to prevent them from rotting.

*If you use kale, here's a great tip to make them into full "flowers" like I have done.  Gently start at the outside, peeling each leaf back just slightly until it resembles an open flower.  Simple. (Mine were sold in the floral department of my grocery store, in a two pack.)

*Consider your own backyard.  You may find greenery, dried leaves, berries and such there. 

*Lastly, don't get caught up in perfection.  You can create a wild arrangement or you can keep it symmetrical but it's your art so make this part as unique as you are and enjoy the process.  





It turned out really beautifully and just as I imagined it and I hope you're inspired to create something lovely for your own table.  I'll be adding some copper wire lights on Thanksgiving for a little twinkle. 

Now, I'm turning my thoughts toward the people who will be sitting around this arrangement in just a couple of days and I hope this series has inspired you to do likewise as you prepare.  Details are important but also not really all that important, as we remember those we are preparing the details for.  Tomorrow I'll be ending this series, by sharing our table and how we make it meaningful while sitting around the table.  


Happy Hosting, XOXO, 
Sasha 




Friday, November 17, 2017

Low-carb, simple, crowd-pleasing side dish for Thanksgiving

Hi dear friends. Are you enjoying this Thanksgiving series?  It's been pretty quiet in the comment section lately, and that's often how we bloggers are able to gauge if a series is helpful or interesting. Thank you to everyone who has taken a moment to comment or share!  I really value your feedback and would love to hear from you all! 

Today I am sharing a family favorite with you.  A Cauliflower Bacon Gratin recipe.  It's so yum.  I have made it every Thanksgiving for at least the last five years, perhaps even longer.  I have spied people who are self proclaimed cauliflower haters going back for seconds and even requesting the recipe.  That's just good press. 



I like an easy recipe and this doesn't get any easier in my opinion because you basically mix it in the pan with the exception of one small  bowl to mix the cream and cheese in. I always double the recipe so I am giving you the doubled version which serves twelve because don't even make this if you aren't going to double it. It will disappear far to quickly otherwise!  And it's low carb if you're into that sort of thing.

Cauliflower Bacon Gratin
3 bags frozen cauliflower florets
2 cups heavy cream
2 cups grated parmesan cheese
salt and pepper to taste
1/4 cup real bacon pieces
1 cup crunchy topping (we use crushed pork rinds to keep it low carb) (you can also use breadcrumbs or crushed crackers)
2 tbsp. butter, cut into small pieces

Butter a 9x13 baking dish and preheat oven to 400.
Add the cauliflower to the dish.
In a small bowl mix the cream, salt and pepper and parmesan.  Pour over the top of cauliflower and lightly toss to coat.
Sprinkle with bacon pieces and crushed pork rinds (or other crunchy topping) and dot with butter pieces.  Cover with foil, and bake 30 min, the remove foil and bake an additional 10-15 min.  Serve immediately.

Straight out of the oven it's all bubbly and crunchy on top and everyone fights for the first scoop.

**As a bonus recipe I wanted to share another long-time favorite appetizer for those hungry thanksgiving guests in your house...   I discovered the best stuffed mushroom recipe from a five star chef who shared his crazy simple recipe, twenty years ago.  I happened to work with his wife and she convinced him to share.  There isn't even a recipe and I'm sorry I don't have a photo because I haven't made it just yet but I'll  be sharing these with my guests on the actual day of Thanksgiving.

All it is... (are you ready?) mushrooms cleaned and stems gently pulled out... then simply spread or pipe room-temperature, Herbed Boursin cheese into the mushroom cavity. (I get mine at Costco but most grocery stores carry it.)  Place mushrooms into baking dish and bake at 350, for 15-20 minutes until cheese is browning and mushrooms are tender.  Time varies depending on size of mushrooms.  Serve warm.  They go fast as well. Simple.


Happy Hosting, XOXO, 
Sasha 

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Making Thanksgiving fun for kids/ the kids table

Hello, and welcome to this short Thanksgiving series.  I've been sharing all of the things that make hosting Thanksgiving an enjoyable and somewhat effortless event in our world.  I've been hosting Thanksgiving for years now, and I've done it with no kids, babies, tiny tots, little kiddos, as well as our current stage, teenagers.  I've always tried to make an effort to create little events or special moments for the kids, as they can get easily overlooked in large gatherings. 


My top tips for creating a welcoming space for kids during Thanksgiving are: 

Embrace the chaos.  It gets loud with littles running around your feet, needing things, laughing, being tossed in the air by uncles and such. There in the chaos, is where the memories are often made. It'll be nice and quiet later, when everyone is gone or in bed, so simply welcoming it in, for that short time is helpful.

Plan a special place for kids, if there is a separate table for them.  Printable placemats, (I am using these ones here) a new box of crayons, a special sparkling drink or a treat often help dinner stay relatively uninterrupted. 

Now that my own kids are older, I find myself thinking back about what was helpful to me when they were little. Seating the parents near to their children seems rather obvious but it's a great tip if you'll be planning seating arrangements.  Making sure they have seating at the end of the table to hop up and down as needed is always appreciated.


Using paper plates and disposable items at the kid's table is a great idea, so nothing special gets broken, and also, so parents can relax and not worry about Grandma's china in the hands of a fork smacking toddler. I do like the kid's table to reflect similarities to the adults table so they feel special, and included.

Storing a pre-set-up kids table in another, out of the way room while everyone is gathering and visiting before the meal is great, as it helps with traffic flow. Once dinner is nearly ready, it's easy enough to transfer the table to where it needs to be.  (In years past, I've set up the card table in the center of the room, and people were having to walk around it for two hours before the meal.  I'm smarter now. Ha!)

Planning a few activities for the kids after the meal is often really important, as the adults usually still want to relax and enjoy more social time together.  In years past, we have encouraged everyone with kids to pick up a gingerbread house kit, and after the table has been cleared, the kids are gathered and get to put candies on their houses (or just sit and eat them.) It's a fun way to make some memories with nephews, nieces, and your own kids.  In fact, this year Ava and I are both going to decorate one, as are my sister in laws and their kids.  Everyone seems to want in on this, and it helps to have that incentive for kids who are getting bored or squirrely pre-meal.

Another really fun thing we have often done after the meal, is assemble homeless gift bags.  Everyone is encouraged to bring a minimum of ten, of various items (small toothpastes, water bottles, granola bars, band-aids, socks, batteries, etc.) and then we set each pile of items all around the cleared table, everyone gets a ziplock bag, and we walk in a circle around the table, filling our bags with items.  Once done, each family is able to bring several bags in their car during the holidays, and when we see a homeless person beside the road, we have something useful and thoughtful to offer them.  Kids always get into this activity and even love handing them out.  It's a really tangible way to explain being thankful and sharing our blessings with others.

Those are my favorite tips for hosting a Thanksgiving meal with children.  One thing I'm still working out this year, is the teenager dynamic.  Our event grew unexpectedly and I've run out of space- table top, chairs and such.  I really want my teens at the adult's table, as it feels important that they are included, but they may have their own special place at the kitchen island this year to make it work. I'm learning quite a lot about hosting when it doesn't go as planned or anticipated in my head.  Just when I thought I had that locked down, I got some lessons on being gracious.  I suppose one can never be done learning what true hospitality looks like.  It's far different than being "the perfect hostess," (something nobody has time and space for.) and far more like being generous and kind, welcoming and accommodating.  I'd love to hear any ideas you have on this or hosting kiddos, so be sure to leave a comment. 

Happy Hosting, XOXO, 
Sasha 

Monday, November 13, 2017

Setting up a Thanksgiving beverage station

Welcome back to my thanksgiving hosting series.  Today, I'm sharing how I plan to use a small table in our dining area, for a self-serve beverage station.  I believe that everyone relaxes and enjoys themselves when they have a beverage of some kind, in their hands.  You know how deep conversations happen when your hands are wrapped around a steaming mug of coffee, across from a friend?  It's almost hosting magic.... get people something to hold and drink and everyone starts to party.

I love bar carts, whether they hold cocoa fixins, or liquor. They are so cute and festive and someday I'll probably own one, but for now, I get to use what I already have, this cream, buffet table. Though I love looking at how bar carts are arranged, I don't like serving fussy drinks when there are large groups.  It can feel a little overwhelming to add that extra hosting duty of mixing drinks and getting refills for everyone who doesn't want to get up. Ha! (You know you've got those family members too!) When you're in the kitchen cooking, you've got enough on your plate. So.  I decided on serving only one beverage besides water and a sparking version for the littles and those who don't like alcoholic beverages. Sticking to one type of drink makes life so much easier sometimes and that's what I'm all about this year.   A self serve station was perfect for this occasion.

(Note-I plan on storing the two pies we will have (pumpkin and pecan) on the first shelf of this table, while the main meal is being prepared and eaten.)

 On the day of thanksgiving, I will move the cereal canister and put some carafes of water and sparkling ciders there.  Those tend to get moved to the dining table once the meal starts anyway.
Now, you know me.  I love it to be both pretty and functional.  I've fully stocked the drawers of this small table with napkins, candles, matches, and the small paper plates we will use with dessert.  Because the pies will be on the shelf below, it will be a cinch to grab everything we need and start dishing.

That fabulous silver bucket was a crazy, inexpensive, Goodwill find and I created the huge memorial service arrangement for my daddy's flowers in it last month.  I felt like it would be the perfect wine chiller for thanksgiving and I didn't have to spend money on the ones Ikea was sporting when I went there recently!  It's rather pretty yet simple and I added a little bit of fall festivity with a glass vase filled with mini pumpkins.


I like to keep barware handy so people aren't hunting all over the kitchen (or having to ask me to find it for them.)  Everything is in reach and that makes for seamless hosting.  I love using this pretty copper bowl that I found at Marshall's several months ago for the corkscrew and such.
To finish it all off, I decided to repeat this Easter idea, and make a banner of some kind for this space.  I was already planning on taking the platters down temporarily so we could use them for serving our meal so this was a great way to cover that hanging hardware.  I was inspired by the beautiful print here and made my own chalked, condensed version to fit on this wall.  I used a roll of $3 kraft paper from JoAnn's and a chalk pencil.

It's so easy to overthink so many details during the holidays... I find myself being drawn to the ones that are more simple, the older I get.  Up next, I'll be sharing some sweet and simple ideas for the kid's table. 

Happy Hosting, XOXO, 
Sasha 

Thursday, November 9, 2017

Planning Thanksgiving

Hello, and welcome to this six-part series on Thanksgiving hosting!  Over the next couple of weeks, I'll be sharing how I work through the details of hosting in a sort of step-by-step overview, and I welcome your thoughts and questions. Today I'm sharing the planning stage of how I tend to host Thanksgiving. I don't believe hosting anything should be stressful, and with a half an hour of planning, it can feel and look almost effortless.   

I can still remember the very first Thanksgiving I ever hosted.  Adrain and I were newlyweds living in the world's tiniest apartment. I hosted my parents and it felt a little like playing at being a grown-up.  My mama had walked me through all the details during the previous year, and then stood at my side and coached while I made it my own holiday.  She was fabulous and I get my love of hosting events from her.  To this day, twenty two years later, she and I start putting our heads together months before the holidays.  We love to plan the details, menu and figure things out so we don't have a lot of surprises and can simply enjoy the preparations and results.

As I live in a relatively small, open space, planning ahead has always been a good idea when it comes to a large gathering.  However, though I love planning details for a holiday event, my every day hosting style is more of a throw it all together in the moment and let it come together however it wants to. But... I always choose to be intentional when it comes to holiday details.

Generally, I begin by gathering a sheaf of paper, pens, and calendar, and find myself a cozy space to work, uninterrupted.  I make three separate lists, labelling each one at the top.  I create; a shopping list, a menu & food delegation list, and a décor/table detail list.  They really help me with organization on the front end.

Beginning with the Menu & Food delegation list, I write down all of the traditional favorites and any new recipes I'd like to try.  I usually host family and they are always happy to bring a few items which is nice.  I can't tell you how important it is to delegate.  If people don't offer, I always ask if they would be willing to contribute for many reason.  Firstly, it helps ease the hosting (and budget) load some.  Secondly, it helps them connect to the event and feel a part of it.  Both are good. As I scan the completed menu list, I take a pencil and write my name next to every main item that I plan to make.  Next, I jot names next to all of the remaining food items, until each person is  bringing a couple of items.  These are often things like rolls, cans of corn or cranberries and a pie.  The goal is to get help, not overwhelm.

Once I've sent a quick text to each person letting them know of their food assignment and making sure they are fine with it, I set it aside.  (Do not throw this paper away.  Chances are, someone will call you the day before, asking what they were supposed to  bring.) I then break down my food items by recipe, listing ingredients that will need to be purchased, on the shopping list.  I set that list aside, but I'll come back to it in a moment. 

Finally I take out the décor list and begin thinking about how I'll set the table, the centerpiece, the guest number and how seating will accommodate and flow. I also think through beverage stations, dessert areas, kid entertainment and such. Sometimes I pull dishes and napkins out and arrange a few combinations on the table as I decide. Often, what really helps with this process, is Pinterest.  This year, I saw a flower arrangement on Pinterest, that sparked some inspiration.  From there, I decided on a drop cloth covering the table, neutral linens, white plates with natural and copper accents.  I will be hosting a group of twelve this year, so as I evaluated seating, I decided on a kid's table.  I can fit the nine adults and teens around our nine foot table, but the three kiddos are getting their own fun space.  I jotted down items that I would need to put together, gather and purchase, and then I made notes on glassware, utensils and such, making decisions as I went.  I grabbed my shopping list and updated as I went.


Once done with all of that, the final remaining steps are easy.  That's the daily timeline.  Because at this point I know what I'm preparing, it's easy to decide what day to shop, thaw the turkey, bake a pie, arrange the flowers, etc.  Within about a half hour, the entire thing is planned out and all that's left is to decide what to wear.  I take my cue from the guests.  If I'm hosting guests who don't mind wearing a cute dress, I'll often lean that way but if I know they won't be comfortable in anything but jeans and comfy clothing, I'll stay casual myself so they don't feel out of place in my home.


Our Menu: 
Turkey, brined and roasted in a bag
Gravy
Stuffing (We do stovetop because it's a favorite and though it's not gluten free I'm okay missing out.) 
Canned cranberries (we also love these more than sauces and fancy jellies.) 
Rolls
Corn
Cauliflower Bacon Gratin (I will share this recipe in this series, as it always disappears fast!)
Mashed Potatoes with Butter
Pumpkin Pie, Whip Cream
Pecan Pie
Prosecco or Sparkling Cider
Possible Appetizer, Stuffed Mushrooms (Another recipe I'll share as it is stupid easy.)


Up next, I'll share how I plan to convert my buffet table into a beverage area and how I've set it up for easy hosting in the past.  I'd love to hear your comments and feedback through this series and I'll do my best to answer any questions you might have as well.  

Happy Hosting, XOXO, 
Sasha 

Monday, November 6, 2017

A shelfie and a thanksgiving series...

Good morning, on this fine fall day.  We had quite a lot of unexpected snow over the weekend, so I'm getting a nice, lazy start today.  Over the past couple of days, I had plenty of cozy time in our home, to list out a few blog posts that I'd love to share this month.  The plan is, to post twice a week, between now and Thanksgiving.  (Of course, grace... because life, best laid plans and all that jazz. But the point is, I've got a plan and I'll be sticking to it as closely as possible.) I do adore this holiday.  It's so lost in the shuffle of pre-Christmas excitement but you'll not see a lot of Christmas in my feed just yet... It's still Thanksgiving's time to shine.  I want to savor it this year!

I'll be sharing how I create my Thanksgiving event plans with a general timeline, how I delegate, along with some thoughts on hosting.  I'll be sharing a post about how I plan to incorporate our buffet table, instead of the bar cart that I'd love to some day get my hands on.  I have plans to share some kids table ideas, an adults table idea, along with ways to make Thanksgiving meaningful. (I'll be sharing some things that we do that I've come to love.) I'll share how I create a floral centerpiece and even a recipe or two. 

So, stay tuned, if you want to push the frantic Christmas-social media flurry back ever so slightly and enjoy being in the moment of fall, thanksgiving, and savoring time with loved ones before all of the hurry and scurry of December hits.

Now today, I'm excited to share my birthday present (from September)... it's finally completed and I couldn't love it more.  A couple of things.  (You know I don't like clutter, or too much over the top useless décor.) (We've discussed this for years, so I know you get this about me.) That said, I only wanted one open shelf. I have loved the café look for years... a little coffee shop with one shelf up high, and stacks of dishes and cups and such.  I would go hunting for one single in-daily-use shelf on Pinterest for inspiration, but I would hardly ever find anything like what I preferred. I wanted it to have a relatively high space under it for tall items.  (For some reason, when we host gatherings, I always find myself needing an area for tall things such as drink dispensers, tall flowers, chalkboard menus, etc.  And though we have an island, I always want a space on the counter for those.) I deliberated about shelf height forever and finally decided to go with my gut and hang it high-ish.







I went to Ikea with a couple of friends and we found a gorgeous bread board that was extra long and it fit like it was made for our under-shelf space, which just confirmed that it was the perfect height for my space.  I am loving it's simple functionality and I look forward to being in this slightly updated space through the holiday season.  So far it's working perfectly for our family. 

I also updated our letterboard with a fun Thanksgiving definition.  It makes me smile daily.

I'm off to play catch up from the snow, but I'll be blogging next, about how I event plan for Thanksgiving!

XOXO,
Sasha