I Wish It Was Christmas Today!

(A new favourite to add to the playlist!)

Christmas is just a couple of days away and with all of the excitement in the air it is easy to forget that the holidays are a time for fun, food and family not just gifts. So while you're out finishing up your final errands don't forget to smile, open the door and help out those who need it. I hope that everyone has a wonderful, safe and magical holiday!

Holiday Cheer Gift Basket

I have been making, buying and wrapping gifts lately and as I mentioned before I love a gift bag/basket. I have been putting together a couple gift baskets and found that the perfect container is a clementine crate! Below is a basket that I put together with some stemless champagne glasses, some sparkling juice, cocktail napkins and some chocolates, perfect for a special treat.

It's important to make every gift look beautiful so to start put some tissue in the bottom of the crate, place your gifts inside and use some celo and craft paper to wrap it up.

To finish it off add some ribbons, a gift tag and something that glitters! So when you start wrapping your holiday treats look for a creative solution before you go to the store or throw it in a gift bag.

Make: Holiday Crackers

{Christmas: Idea 3}

Making your own Christmas crackers is a lot of fun and really easy. By making your own crackers it allows you to personalize the crackers to the people or the party. The crackers below do not actually crack but the piece that cracks is available for purchase at some craft stores.

Here we go:

You'll need - toilet paper rolls, scrap paper, ribbon, treats and trinkets, stuffing and items to decorate the outside of the crackers.

First, wrap the toilet roll with paper leaving a couple of inches on side of roll. Tie one end closed with ribbon and stuff the bottom with stuffing. I make my stuffing from scrap paper and ribbon run through a paper shredder.

Next, fill the cracker with candy, trinkets and a fortune and a little more stuffing. Tie the other end of the cracker closed and decorate as you see fit. If you're personalizing them make sure to add the persons name or first initial.

This year I didn't include a crown inside because I found these great metallic crowns from West Elm by David Stark but tissue crowns are always a nice touch. We use our Christmas crackers for breakfast on Christmas morning so the fancy crowns will be an added bit of glam. No matter your age a holiday cracker will add a bit of fun and whimsy to your holiday party.

An Australian Surprise!

This week has been really busy with lots of holiday prep and crafting (posts to come) but the highlight of the week was receiving a package of stationary from my friend Danielle in Australia. Danielle moved to Australia almost two years ago and is due back soon (I hope). She is my stationary partner in crime so I was so excited when I came home to find a package of notebooks, clips, pens and gift tags and cards hand picked and hand crafted by Danielle.

Danielle is a true stationary crafter (you should have seen her wedding invites), a great friend and a true inspiration and I can't wait until we're back in the same country again!

Holiday Cheer

My favorite gifts have always been bags or boxes filled with a bunch of small presents that follow some sort of theme. I have always thought it was more fun to delve into a gift where I have to open a bunch of small packages.
Below is the perfect gift bag for the holidays:

A Lanvin/H&M/Unicef tote bag, a David Stark for West Elm Flower Clip, Kate Spade Christmas Cards, Supremes Buttons from Albert and Victoria Museum, Cabled Hand Warmer's Made by me, Lime Green Pentel Correction Tape Dispenser, Mark's Notebooks and Le Pen and Kikkerland Pens.

Perfect for the Fashionista on your list.

Homemade Gift: Caramel Corn

I received a lovely email from Charissa at The Gifted Blog asking if I could share the recipe for the caramel corn I posted about last week. So here it is Caramel Corn Recipe . (just click on caramel corn recipe) It is a Martha Stewart Recipe with a couple of modifications
1. I omit the almond extract
2. I use pecans not almonds
I have used almonds before as well as a mixture of nuts but have found that I enjoy the texture and flavour of the pecans the most. I hope that this recipe puts a smile on a few more faces this holiday season!

Holiday Gifts : Past and Presents

If you haven't started thinking about Holiday shopping today is the day! In the spirit of Black Friday I thought I would share a couple of gift ideas. These gifts are thoughtful, won't break the budget and should please almost everyone.

1. Homemade Treats

No one can pass up a yummy homemade treat. My favorite is caramel corn with pecans. I make enough for my extended family - this year my Aunt Nancy will get her own jar (It was so popular last year my uncle ate the whole jar while everyone was opening their gifts). You can put it in a mason jar or other glass container, tie a bow and ta-da instant gift.

2. Coffee and Tea

The coffee sleeve how-to is great gift on it's own but if you want to jazz it up why not add a cup (paper or ceramic) and some coffee, tea or coffee giftcard. Put all of the items in the cup and use some celo or wrapping paper and some ribbon to dress it up. A great mix of homemade and thoughtful.

3. Personalized Stationary

An easy way to give the stationary fan in your life some personalized stationary of their own is to have a stamp made. Last year I drew Ann Marie for secret santa and came up with this gift. A personalized stamp, a stamp pad and some blank stationary - now the sky's the limit!

4. Author Signed Books

Not everyone will have the opportunity to get their book signed in person but most bookstores ask authors at book signings to sign extra copies to sell in the store. So if you missed the book signing take a look for signed copies at the store or online. Make the gift a little more special with a signed copy.

I hope these ideas have inspired you today. Remember you don't have to spend a lot to find a thoughtful and meaningful gift!

Christmas Came Early Today!

Today I met Jamie Oliver! I have been a fan of Mr. Oliver's for 10+ years now and have always wanted to meet him but I didn't commit to going to this book signing until this morning. I had known for about a week that Jamie was coming to Toronto and that he was doing a book signing but last time he was in Toronto people started lining up at 6am to get their books signed and I didn't want to show up but miss out.

This morning though, I was sitting here thinking to myself you have to at least go down there and see how long the line is, if it's too long you can leave. When I arrived at 10:30 I was shocked, I was only about 40 people back. As time passed we all got more and more excited and it was great! He was so sweet and just the way you expect him to be. The people at Chapters/Indigo were sweet enough to take some pictures and if you could see my face you would see a huge smile.

Thanks Jamie for making my day, signing my books, shaking my hand and for all of meals you have helped make delicious!

Give: French Wrapping

{Christmas: idea 2}

I discovered this wrapping technique a couple of years ago after receiving a beautifully wrapped gift from my mom. She had gone on vacation to France and brought me back one of my favorite gifts - stationary. Since that trip I have been using this techniques for all sorts of gifts.
You'll need wrapping paper, tissue, twine or yarn, a gift tag and an embellishment (optional). First, cut the paper and tissue to fit the gift. In this case I used craft paper and grey crepe paper.

Next, place the tissue paper on the table and craft paper directly on top. Fold both layers back an inch and then over itself another inch, just like you're creating a hem.

Now wrap your present like you would traditionally except you want the seam on the front not the back of the package. Also don't tape the flap down on top. Fold the ends in and affix to the back of the gift.

Lastly, secure with twine or yarn, attach your tag and embellishments and you're done. This is a great way to wrap almost anything but works really well on fabric, notebooks and other floppy items. This is a great way to wrap gifts for any occasion. It's not difficult and doesn't take long but will make the person receiving the gift feel special to receive it.

Collection: Cocktail Rings

I love jewellery! I wear the same earrings and watch everyday but can't get enough cocktail rings. Some are old some are new all of them are big!
Above some of my collection is a Laudree truffle box.

Above is a selection of the glitzy and the simple. One of my favorites is bottom left - it's blister pearl.

You can't have too many rings.

Make: Gift Tags

{Christmas: idea 1}

After choosing my color scheme for Christmas wrap this week I decided that the place to start would be with the gift tags. I use these manila tags for gift tags for most occasions. They are easy to decorate and can add some flair to any present.
First, gather your supplies. You'll need manila gift tags, some items to embellish with (stamps, stickers, tape, office supplies, etc) and finally you'll need something to attach the tag (yarn, twine, or ribbon).

Start from the background forward. Above I used a stamp for the first tag and the tapes and stickers for the second. One is more traditional and the other modern both are great options.

Lastly, add the finishing touches. For the stamped tag I created two options. First a monogrammed tag, I added a stripe with tape and a silver M from some letters that I found on sale in the scrapbooking area of the craft store. Second a nature inspired tag, I added a felt bird sticker. For the more modern tag I attached a glittered peace sign with the twine I used to attach the tag to the present. I added the same twine to all of the tags but yarn or ribbon would do the trick as well. Make sure to make your tags in advance because when you're wrapping gifts at the last minute you won't take the time to make the tags. This is an easy and fun way to get started.

After Monday's post I thought about other non-traditional color schemes for the holidays and the one that I would go for if I had the supplies is Silver, Black and Eggplant. It would be so beautiful - think crowns, velvet ribbons and glossy black paper. If anyone goes for it let me know I would love to see the results. What color scheme is inspiring you?

Roses with Breakfast

This morning, on my way to breakfast with friends, I popped into my local Whole Foods Market where I noticed the most glorious bunches of roses.

The rose colors were so vibrant and splendid; I stopped, pulled my iphone from my bag, took several photos for posterity, and then bought a bunch.

Once at my friends, we set the table with our shared bounty, whereupon I was delighted by the likeness of the candy-colored roses I'd brought to the colors in our breakfast spread.

There really is nothing more appetizing than fresh, colorful food. Perhaps that's the case because color radiates energy and life, even joy, and certainly beauty.

Food that looks beautiful isn't always delicious, but its beauty inspires our desire to taste nevertheless.

Many years ago, I became quite intoxicated by the rich hue of Chinese-red roses. I bought a bunch, not for the purpose of beautifying my home, but to eat.

I plucked the petals from the buds and tossed them into a large jam pot with water, sugar, and rose water. Well on the way to making rose-petal jelly, my hope was that I'd create a floral jelly rich in color, scent and flavor.

Alas, my jelly was a flop, but don't let my failure deter you. I'm linking here to a recipe that is very straightforward and simple. Try it for yourself and see if you can create a batch of rose petal jelly that rivals the beauty of the rose on the stem -- and do let me know how you get on!

Rose petals not only make heavenly jelly, but you can also eat the petals. Last summer I plucked velvety, ruby-red petals from buds and used them as garnish on a dessert plate of wild strawberries, Colorado peaches, yogurt and honey.

Steep lavender and rose petals in hot water with black tea for a delectable cuppa; you can also add rose petals to green salads for interest, color, and as a talking point!

And did you know that rose petals ground with a little water into a gelatinous paste, then molded into tiny balls, and then dried, are the original rosary beads?

Ah, the versatile rose, so beautiful, you just want to eat them -- and indeed you can, though today, I just gazed at them over breakfast.

Herb & Pesto Polenta with Salmon & Eggs

A couple of weeks ago I mentioned a friend had come to visit and brought with her treats from the northwest where she lives.

One of those treats was a bottle of marionberry spread, which I wrote about in my post titled Marionberry Rhubarb with CashewNut Cream.

Another of the treats was an 8-ounce pack of locally caught, wild king salmon (also known as Chinook salmon) which she'd bought direct from the fisherman who'd smoked it with maple and wine.

That's one of the advantages of living in the Pacific Northwest: access to just-caught, wild fresh fish, and in particular, Chinook salmon.

In the July issue of O Magazine, which I mentioned last week because of the 10-page spread on extreme dietary choices, there is a "tip box" on the page featuring a woman who is a pescavore (eats only seafood).

The first tip in the box is "Download a Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch pocket guide for best picks, fish to avoid and good alternatives."

I've linked to that guide, and others like it, many times on this blog. And the reason I've done so is to alert readers to easily-accessible, online resources that can help them make healthy and sustainable seafood choices when grocery shopping.

Because I'm posting a meal idea making use of the wild caught Chinook salmon my friend Judi gave me, I went onto Seafood Watch's website to see what they had to say about salmon, and I saw the heading Updated West Coast Salmon Recommendations.

Seafood Watch is recommending consumers avoid wild caught salmon from California and Oregon due to the declining populations of Chinook salmon in these states.

Whereas wild caught salmon from Alaska remains the best choice and good alternatives are wild caught salmon from Washington (which is what Judi gave me) and northern Oregon.

Last summer, I took a friend's husband grocery shopping. Bruce is an introvert and he wanted some tips on navigating Whole Foods Market on a budget and without going into overwhelm. It was Bruce who introduced me to Seafood Watch's pocket guide.

I was very impressed that he made specific seafood choices for his family based on the guide and I decided if he can do it, I can too, and so can you. Read the guide online, print it out, and keep it on hand when next grocery shopping.

Herb Polenta with Pesto, Salmon & Eggs
1) To make the polenta base (which is underneath the pesto and salmon in the top pic), pour 1 cup of polenta into a pot with 2 cups water and 2 cups half and half. Gently stir off-and-on for about 30 mins over a low heat.
2) At the last minute, toss your choice of grated cheese and stir until the cheese melts. Taste test, adding salt and pepper if you wish.
3) If you have herbs growing in your garden or window box, pick a handful. I chose parsley, marjoram, and chives, chopped them coarsely, and then tossed them into the cooked polenta.
4) Now pour the polenta into an oil-lined pan or baking tray and let it set.
5) Once it has set and is cool, turn polenta onto a plate and spread it with pesto. I had some garlic scape pesto left over so I used that.

To Serve: Break into pieces about 3 ounces or more, depending on the number of people eating, of smoked salmon and spread the bits atop the herb and pesto polenta. I dotted some sliced black olives over the lot, and then garnished the plate with a couple of sliced, hard-boiled eggs.

One cup of cooked polenta made the portion in the top pic, which I cut in two, sharing it with a friend with a side salad of garden-fresh greens.

Meatless Monday

This morning when I was in the garden, I noticed the pumpkin blossoms blooming (below).

It was just this past weekend that I commented on a series of pictures of harvested squash and their blossoms posted by my Facebook friend, British actress and author, Carol Drinkwater.

Carol and her husband have an olive farm above Nice, in the dry Mediterranean climate of the south of France. There they grow olives--which produce award-winning olive oil--farm bees, and harvest produce from their vegetable garden.

The growing season is obviously longer in the south of France since the pictures Carol posted of the squash from her garden reveal large, ready-to-eat squash, versus the just-budding pumpkin growing in the Colorado garden I'm care-taking.

Pumpkins, which are actually a gourd-like squash, produce the same edible yellow flowers as the zucchini, a summer squash.

Last August, when house sitting another property, an urban farm with a huge vegetable garden, I wrote about preparing squash blossoms for a series of garden-to-table vegetarian side dishes.

Seeing Carol's pictures this weekend on Facebook, and then noting the pumpkin blossoms in the garden this morning, I thought I'd reprint a variation on my recipe for stuffed squash blossoms for this week's Meatless Monday all-vegetarian meal idea.

Lining the platter of cooked blossoms (pic at top) are nasturtium leaves and their flowers.

To the left are nasturtiums growing in the garden.

Both the nasturtium leaves and the flowers are edible and they're easy to grow, even in a window box! (Or find them at your local farmer's market.)

The leaves have a delicate peppery flavor, and the flowers look amazing tossed into a simple green salad because of their bright orange, yellowy-red color (pic at very top).

(The pink flowers in the pic just above are not nasturtium flowers.)

Stuffed Squash Blossoms with Nasturtium Leaf Salad
1) If you have access to a vegetable garden, that's probably the most likely place you'll find squash blossoms (or your local farmer's market). Pick blossoms which are open and healthy looking.
2) In the kitchen, gently cut the stamen out from inside the blossom.
3) Wash blossom of dirt and little bugs. (You can of course leave the bugs in the blossom; they'll add to the mineral and protein content of this vegetarian dish!) Set blossoms aside.
4) Into a bowl crumble about a cup or so of cornbread. If you made my DuckEgg cornbread, use stale leftovers. Or you could use stale bread crumbs or leftover cooked rice.
5) To the bowl, add your choice of grated vegetable, such as carrot or zucchini, perhaps some green onion, and some fresh herbs i.e. basil and oregano, or sage and thyme, or parsley and cilantro -- a mix of your favorite herbs.
6) Add one large or two small eggs to the mix, stirring gently so the stuffing binds. If mixture is sloppy, add more grain or crumbs.
Note: As you can see in the pic at top, my stuffing was too wet and so it oozed out of the blossoms. To avoid this, make sure your stuffing is firm, one large, rather than two small eggs, may be plenty.
7) You might also like to add your choice of grated cheese, i.e. Parmesan.
8) Take a small teaspoon of stuffing and place it into the center of each blossom. As you stuff each blossom, curl the end so that the blossom is sealed; now place it on a baking tray and moisten with a little olive oil.
9) Place baking tray of stuffed blossoms into heated 350-degree oven for about 10-15 mins. Keep and eye on the blossoms, you don't want them to overcook, but you do want the stuffing to set.

To Serve: Decorate a serving platter with nasturtium leaves and nasturtium flowers. Using an egg spatula, gently arrange the hot, stuffed blossoms in the center of the platter.

To a bowl of Garlic Dressed Salad Greens add a couple handfuls of nasturtium leaves and a handful of the edible flowers, toss, and serve salad alongside your platter of stuffed squash blossoms.

What Are You Eating?

The July issue of O Magazine features a 10-page spread titled "What Are You Eating."

Within those 10 pages are the preferred diets of 10 individuals.

Ranging from a fruitarian to an all-day grazer of junk food, from a carnivore who prefers to hunt and kill his own meat to an omnivore with an appetite for just about anything, the diets are extreme.

The article is worth reading for the shock factor. Apparently some people eat what they eat quite happily and for valid personal reasons -- like the guy who lives on bread, steak and cereal because nothing else tastes good to him!

Whether the 10 (and others like them) are healthy eating what they're eating is highly questionable, but that's another article.

When I finished reading "What Are You Eating," I realized Market to Mouth probably looks and reads as though I'm one of those people who are, quote, "making it hard to feel good about eating anymore ... that subset of -arian, -vores, and -ists who eat not just thoughtfully but righteously."

I confess to being very thoughtful about the food I buy, cook and eat (or this past month, the food I pick from the garden to cook and eat). Though hopefully, I'm not righteous about it; I certainly wouldn't want to make readers feel guilty about what they're eating or not eating.

Being a thoughtful and conscious consumer of locally grown and produced whole, unprocessed food reaps dividends; the most obvious is the benefit to one's health, and then the benefit to the economic and sustainable health of one's community.

For these reasons, I feel very good about consuming and eating thoughtfully and with a conscience.

With that in mind, today's thoughtful meal idea comes, once again, from the garden to the table.

However, it's not exactly a meal, but rather a delicious side of unusual edibles: snap-pea greens and garlic scapes, both of which I've included in a number of posts in recent weeks.

In fact, it was this past Meatless Monday that I posted a recipe for pasta with Garlic Scape Pesto garnished with pea greens (pic to left).

I still have some of the pesto in the fridge and I've been using it to dress salads, and as a paste on crackers with cheese and olives.

Garlic scapes (pic below) have a strong garlic - onion flavor when raw, but gently sauteed or roasted in the oven tossed in a little oil, they're not as pungent.

The leaves, shoots and flowers of the snap peas are sweet and tender and taste just like raw snap peas.

Find scapes and snap-pea greens at your local farmer's market and then toss washed and coarsely chopped scapes into a skillet with butter and saute until just soft.

Toss washed snap pea greens over the scapes, gently stir for a minute or until the leaves wilt slightly. Season to taste.

To Serve: Spoon wilted greens into a serving bowl. Add a dollop of sour cream. Eat as a side with pasta or baked potato and or as accompaniment to fish or poultry.

Marionberry Rhubarb with CashewNut Cream

Last Friday I mentioned a friend had arrived for a visit. And with her, she brought a bag of goodies including a jar of Oregon marionberry spread.

As it turned out, I didn't open the spread while she was here. Instead, this morning I plucked some stems of green rhubarb from the garden, stewed them, adding the marionberry spread to create a beautiful, ruby-red compote for breakfast.

The green variety of rhubarb stays green upon cooking, in fact, a rather unappetizing green so the addition of the dark burgundy berry spread added desirable color.

While at Whole Foods a few days ago, I noticed locally grown, organic red rhubarb in the produce section. At $6.99 lb it was priced high -- a luxury item for most.

I haven't compared that price to our local farmer's market, but if you're looking for rhubarb, that might be a more budget-friendly option.

The marionberry spread had no added sugar and like the rhubarb it's tart (though the green variety of rhubarb is actually a bit sweeter than the red varietal).

Rather than add sugar to my compote, I tossed in chunks of apple for sweetness and topped the lot with cashew nut cream and swirls of honey.

Marionberry Rhubarb with CashewNut Cream
1) Wash and peel 4 stalks of rhubarb. When I peel the stalks, I just remove the most fibrous sinews. If you remove all the outer fiber from the stalks, there's not much left, so go easy with the peeling.
2) Chop rhubarb into chunks, toss into a pot, and add just enough water to cover the rhubarb.
3) Simmer over low heat for about 10 mins.
4) Add either a cup of your favorite fresh or frozen summer berries, i.e. blueberries, raspberries, strawberries or a heaped tablespoon of a dark fruit, sugarless spread. Stir the fruit or spread through the rhubarb until it's well blended.
5) Remove pot from the stove and add chopped chunks of apple.

CashewNut Cream
1) Toss a large handful of raw cashew nuts into a blender. Add hot filtered water, just enough to cover the nuts.
2) Blend the nuts and water until creamy. Add more water if you'd prefer a smoother cream.
3) Taste test. If you like the flavor as is, great, and if you'd prefer an enhanced flavor consider adding a dash of vanilla or some cinnamon or a slug of maple syrup.
Note: Simply by adding water and blending, cashew nuts turn incredibly creamy. Other nuts don't blend to the same smooth consistency, but don't let that stop you swapping out cashew nuts for say, pecans or almonds.

To Serve: Ladle a portion of the fruit compote into a bowl. Top with a heaped spoonful of the cashew nut cream and swirls of honey or maple syrup.

If you're eating this for breakfast, as I did, and you'd prefer a heartier start to your day, spoon the fruit compote, nut cream and honey over a bowl of hot oatmeal and finish it with some whole, raw cashews.

Meatless Monday

One thing that happens when you have access to a garden filled with a selection of spring greens, herbs, and onions is innovation in the kitchen.

Though the garden I'm tending while house sitting doesn't have basil growing, it does have parsley, spinach (and lots of other leafy greens) plus a selection of onions, including garlic.

The garlic, busily forming underground into the bulb we recognize, is also sprouting long green shoots above ground. These green shoots grow into curly tendrils that look quite exotic (see slide show below).

And what I discovered via a Facebook friend is that those exotic-looking tendrils are called garlic scapes and they're delicious cooked or eaten raw in say, a pesto.

The scape's flavor is a cross between garlic and the purple spring onions I posted about last Friday.

Because I find raw garlic highly pungent, when I blended the scapes into the pesto sauce I made yesterday, I added equal portions of both spinach and parsley.

Whenever I make traditional pesto with basil, garlic, Parmesan and nuts, I toss in a handful of parsley. The chlorophyll in the parsley helps counteract the heat of the garlic and it balances out the highly aromatic basil.

And having made a batch of garlic scape pesto, naturally it lent itself to a Meatless Monday pasta dish!

If you want to try your hand at today's meatless meal, and you don't have garlic scapes in your veggie garden, look for them at your local farmer's market.

Follow the slide show and method recipe below to make:

Pasta with Garlic Scape Pesto

1) Wash about 4-6 scapes, and a small handful each of spinach and parsley. Drain.
2) Put scapes and greens into a blender with about 3/4 of a cup of olive oil.
3) Pulse until the oil and greens and blended, then add several tablespoons of grated Parmesan and pulse again.
4) Taste test. Add salt and pepper if you wish, and a splash of lemon or lime juice.
Optional: Rather than salt the pesto, you could add a squirt of anchovy paste or even several anchovy fillets and a bit of the oil from the tin.
5) Boil your choice of pasta. Drain, and then run colander under the hot water tap and flush out starchy water. Return pasta pot the stove, stir for a minute over low heat to dry pasta.
6) Away from the hot plate, stir pesto through pasta.

To Serve: Pour pesto pasta into a large serving bowl. Decorate the top with black olives. I garnished the edge of the bowl with snap-pea greens and the white, edible flowers attached to the greens.

With the pasta, I served a large garden salad, the one I posted last week, though I omitted the garlic from the dressing since the garlic scapes in the pesto was sufficient garlic for one meal.