Curried Carrot and Sweet Potato Soup

Curried Carrot & Sweet Potato SoupHappy New Year, my lovelies! Here’s hoping the first few days of 2015 are treating you very well indeed. I had so many plans for holiday posts – a cute jewelry DIY, a recipe or three – and I got to none of them! Zut alors! While this makes my overachieving brain feel a touch guilty for being neglectful of this space, I also realized that in not doing these things, I spent a lot more time being present with friends and family and just enjoying the season. While this may not bring me blogging fame any time soon, it did lend itself to a restful time, which I was sorely in need of after my teaching wrapped up. At any rate, I return to you with this absolutely delicious curried carrot and sweet potato soup that I hope you’ll love as much as I do!

Curried Carrot & Sweet Potato SoupThe time I spent visiting my family this holiday season was such fun and omg-so-decadent. As Italians generally do, we stuffed our faces with some absolutely delicious grub. There were homemade rice balls, giant antipastos, surf & turf, cookies, cakes, an unforgettable banana cream pie. We visited family in southern Jersey and had mozzarella so fresh it was still warm when it hit our tongues! We traveled to see friends in New York and were treated to homemade gyoza that were simultaneously tender and crisp – not to mention porky & gingery! There were cheese balls, charcuterie, towers of pastries, piles of candies! Guys, in the words of Rayanne Graff, “it was a time!”

Curried Carrot & Sweet Potato SoupI bet for many of you, though, there is a glaring absence here of fruit and vegetables and while I didn’t at first care too much about this – vegetables with spinach dip count, right? – by my final days, I was a bit alarmed at how meat-cheese-and-sweets-heavy our diets had become. Understandably, my body felt cranky and tired, so when I returned to Minneapolis my first stop was the grocery store where I loaded up on all the produce I could carry. Seriously, the whole bottom shelf of my refrigerator is stuffed full with vegetables and fruit – a sight for the sore eyes of Bear, too, who had eaten a criminal amount of Tostino’s pizza rolls in my absence.

Curried Carrot & Sweet Potato SoupAs I stared at my bounty that first night trying to figure out what it was I wanted to eat, I realized that not only did I want something nutritious, I also wanted something well spiced and flavored; something different and brighter than the heavy foods I’d been enjoying the past few weeks. I spied the 5lbs of carrots awaiting me and suddenly was off on a monochromatic dash through the kitchen that found me grabbing sweet potatoes, curry paste, and an orange in tandem with the usual hosts of any savory meal – onions, garlic, and olive oil, among others.

Thirty minutes later, I had this hearty, delicious soup promising to bring me back from the brink of what I can only assume was nearly scurvy and oh goodness, was it just the ticket! Try this curried carrot and sweet potato soup with a drizzle of plain yogurt or sour cream and a garnish of fresh cilantro. It’s a sure pick-me-up and a great, flavorful start to the new year. It got me back on track and welcoming the next 360 days or so and all the splendor they’ll surely bring.

Curried Carrot & Sweet Potato Soup
Yields approximately 4-6 servings

Ingredients
2 medium sweet potatoes
2lbs of carrots
1 medium onion, diced
2 cloves of garlic, minced
2 Tablespoons of butter
2 Tablespoons of olive oil
1-1/2 Tablespoons of curry paste (or 1 Tablespoons of curry powder)
1/8 – 1/4 teaspoon of cayenne pepper
1/2 an orange, juiced (approximately 3 Tablespoons)
8 cups of chicken or vegetable stock, separated
1/2 cup of plain Greek yogurt (I prefer Chobani) or sour cream, plus more for garnish
Cilantro, for garnish (optional)
Salt and pepper

Directions
Peel and roughly chop sweet potatoes and carrots into chunks; try to cut them a similar size to one another so that they cook evenly. In a soup pot, add the butter and olive oil over medium heat. Add the onions and cook until they’ve begun to soften, approximately 5 minutes. Add garlic and sweet potatoes and sprinkle with some salt and pepper. Sautée for about 5 minutes and then add carrots. Continue cooking for 3-4 minutes. Stir in the curry & the cayenne pepper and cook for another 2-3 minutes. Add 7 cups of chicken or vegetable stock, raise the temperature to medium high and bring to a boil. Give the soup a good stir, add the orange juice, lower the heat to medium low and simmer the soup for approximately 25 minutes. At this point, check the vegetables. If they are soft, you’re ready to move on to the next step. If they still have some resistance to them, cook until done. You want them to be really soft so that they blend up easily.

Remove the soup from the flame and prepare to purée the soup. You can do this a number of ways. I use an immersion blender, but you could also process this in batches in a blender or a food processor. For each, fill your vessel only half full and give it a few pulses before really letting it whirl. Hot liquid expands quickly when agitated and if you don’t use caution, you could burn yourself. If you don’t have any of these appliances, you could also remove all the vegetables from the pot and mash them with a potato masher or use a ricer. When finished, return them to the pot with the liquid and stir until combined. Your soup won’t be as smooth as if you’d used a blender of sorts, but don’t fear – it will still be very delicious!

Once your soup is puréed, check it for salt & add any if necessary. Additionally, consider its thickness. If it’s too much like a purée for your tastes, add the remaining 1 cup of stock in increments until the soup reaches the desired consistency. Next, stir in the yogurt or sour cream and watch your soup take on a new level of velvety. Yum!

Ladle into bowls and garnish with a swirl of yogurt or sour cream and a bit of cilantro. Gobble up.

*Note: This is easily made vegetarian (use vegetable stock instead of chicken stock) & vegan (use vegetable stock, replace butter with oil, and sour cream/yogurt with a dairy-free, soy yogurt).

Cranberry & Clementine Conserve

Cranberry & Clementine ConserveWell, it’s been a minute, hasn’t it? One moment I’m making pumpkin french toast & the next I’m gone for weeks! It’s been a rough almost two months, but with the end of the semester nearing and the holidays upon us, I have every reason to make it through and get back to spending some time here with you all. Good riddance, first colds of the season, stomach flu, ailing relatives, antibiotic allergies, clogged up kitchen sink, hives! I’m telling you, we’ve had a rotten few weeks around the Femme Fraîche Fortress! Our survival, though, just serves as added material to consider around our Thanksgiving table this week.

Cranberry & Clementine ConserveI’ve been organizing and cooking our Thanksgiving dinners the past few years, often with the help of friends, and this cranberry & clementine conserve is a tried and true staple. I’m such a fan of this stuff, that I make it at all different times of the year (it’s totally acceptable to hoard cranberries while they’re fresh & freeze them, didn’t you know?) and pair it with so many other dishes other than the glory that is roasted turkey. It is, perhaps obviously, amazing alongside chicken and also pork, but it’s also delicious used as a jelly, spread on wheat toast that’s been topped with cream cheese. I’ve garnished oatmeal with it, swirled it into yogurt, and even had it on vanilla ice cream once. My grandmother, who is not the best judge of how to pair foods, also swears by eating it with meatloaf. I can’t vouch for that one, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it’s strangely delicious – it seems to be the perfect topper or side to many different kinds of meals.
Cranberry & Clementine ConserveWhat’s behind its versatility? I think it’s the very way in which it is such a mélange of flavors and textures. It is tart from the fresh cranberries and Granny Smith apple, yes, but it’s also sweet from the clementine juice and golden raisins, citrusy and fragrant from the zests, and crunchy from the toasted walnuts. When paired with something savory, it is, in fact, a perfect bite. Try this delicious take on cranberry sauce for your Thanksgiving meal. It will be the perfect addition this year and for those to come, though I’m willing to bet that once you try this, it will finds its way into your fridge – and heart! – all throughout the year. Cranberry & Clementine Conserve
Cranberry & Clementine Conserve
Yields approximately 4 cups; adapted slightly from here.

Ingredients
12 ounces of fresh cranberries
1-3/4 cups of white, granulated sugar
1 cup of water
1 Granny Smith apple, peeled, cored, and chopped
4 Clementines, zested & juiced (may substitute 1 orange)
1 Lemon, zested & juiced
3/4 cup of golden raisins
3/4 cup of toasted walnuts, chopped

Directions
In a dry skillet, toast walnuts over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until they are lightly browned and fragrant (you can always tell when nuts are done toasting by the amazing smell!); approximately 5 minutes. Be sure the walnuts are in a single layer in order to get even toasting. If you are working with pre-chopped walnuts, this process may take less than 5 minutes. Once your walnuts are toasted, remove from heat and allow to cool before chopping roughly if necessary. Set aside.

In a heavy-bottom saucepan, combine the cranberries, sugar, and water and heat over medium heat for about 5-7 minutes, or until the cranberry skins are mostly all popped. Stir this mixture occasionally and don’t be alarmed if a bit of pink foam forms; this is just the berries releasing their pectin, which will help the sauce gel up. Next, add the chopped apple, the zests, the lemon & clementine juices, and stir together. Cook for another 15 minutes, stirring frequently. Remove the pan from the heat and immediately add the golden raisins and the toasted walnuts. Stir to combine and allow to cool fully before transferring to a storage container. Serve chilled.

Cranberry & Clementine Conserve keeps well in the fridge for over a week and takes very well to being frozen and thawed when next you need it.

Pumpkin French Toast with Cinnamon Sugar Cornflake Crust

Pumpkin French Toast with Cinnamon Sugar Cornflake CrustWhew! That title is a monster! You might be asking, are all of those things really going to be in this recipe and will it really be good or just plain overwhelming? Fear not, dear readers! This recipe is as every bit delicious as it is a mouthful and I promise to never steer you wrong. If you’re looking for a lovely little Fall-inspired breakfast to have this weekend or later on in the season once the leaves have all wrapped themselves in ochre, this is it. All the flavors of Fall and home in one dish!

Pumpkin French Toast with Cinnamon Sugar Cornflake CrustPrior to moving to Minneapolis, I’d never seen French toast dipped in anything other than your standard egg custard. All of that changed, though, when I found my favorite local brunch spot, Sunnyside Up Cafe, where they rolled their French toast in crushed cinnamon-sugared cornflakes – what a surprising and delicious treat! Their Cowboy French Toast, as they called it, was unmatched in its crunch and caramelization – cornflakes and sugar browned up in butter? Help me, Rhonda!

Pumpkin French Toast with Cinnamon Sugar Cornflake CrustSadly, my beloved Sunnyside Up went out of business a year or so ago and ever since I’ve been thinking of trying my hand at recreating their French toast. I’ve hesitated though because, truth be told, I’m not the biggest fan of sweet for breakfast. Sweet and salty, yes, please, but a whole plate of sugary, syrupy breakfast makes me feel off the whole rest of the day. Last week, though, I found a beautiful cinnamon bread at the store and while we’d had a few slices for a late-night sweet treat over several days, it was starting to get a bit dry. As I made my way back through the kitchen en route to the bedroom on Saturday night, I passed it on the counter and it clicked – we could have French toast tomorrow morning! With a plan in place, I left 8 slices out on the counter, took a package of bacon out of the freezer to defrost, and off I went to slumber.

Pumpkin French Toast with Cinnamon Sugar Conflake CrustThe next morning felt like Fall, with a cooler breeze in the air and the first turning leaves spied from the kitchen window. As I began to gather my ingredients, I came across a lone can of pumpkin puree in the back of my pantry. My initial thought was “You’d better use this remaining can up from last winter before you start stockpiling cans for this season!” and as soon as the thought was complete, my stomach & brain sung “pumpkin french toast!” in unison. The rest of this story is history!

Pumpkin French Toast with Cinnamon Sugar Cornflake CrustThe pumpkin custard here is simple, but tastes like the loveliest of pies – cinnamon, vanilla, & cardamom all join the milk and eggs to round out the flavors of Fall. Rolled in a mixture of crushed cornflakes, sugar, and some more cinnamon, the French toast takes on this hard, crisp exterior that holds up well to a pat of butter and your best maple syrup. In fact, you don’t even really need the latter as this recipe is so delicious on its own, but why stop at pumpkin french toast with cinnamon sugar cornflake crust? A drizzle of maple syrup, a slice or two of bacon, some fresh berries and this is the stuff of dreams – autumnal dreams! Serve this to your favorite wearer(s) of plaid & enjoy!

Pumpkin French Toast with Cinnamon Sugar Cornflake CrustNote: Exciting news at Femme Fraîche – I was able to upgrade my camera just last week, which means I have a bunch more megapixels to capture and play with. While these photos were taken with the new baby, it was less than 24 hours after its arrival, so they might not look so great while I get up to speed on all of the new bells & whistles. Prettier (less grainy?) photos to come!

Pumpkin French Toast with Cinnamon Sugar Cornflake Crust
Yields 8 slices of French Toast

Ingredients:
8 slices of a sturdy bread, such as brioche, that has been left out on the counter overnight or is a few days old
3 eggs
1/2 cup of whole milk or half & half
1 teaspoon of vanilla
2-1/2 teaspoons of cinnamon, separated
2-3 shakes of nutmeg
1/8 teaspoon of cardamom
5 Tablespoons + 2 teaspoons of granulated sugar, separated
1/3 cup of canned, pureed pumpkin; not canned pumpkin pie filling
2 cups of cornflakes
Small pinch of salt
4 Tablespoons of butter, plus more for serving
Maple syrup, optional
Fresh berries, optional

Directions:
Set out 8 slices of bread overnight to dry out a bit so that they will absorb maximum pumpkin custard and flavor when you make your French toast. In a resealable gallon bag, pour 2 cups of cornflakes, 1-1/2 teaspoon of cinnamon, 5 Tablespoons of sugar, and a small pinch of salt. Crush together until all of the cornflakes are broken down coarsely. Pour contents onto a large platter and set aside. In a mixing bowl, combine the 3 eggs and milk until well incorporated. Add the remaining cinnamon, nutmeg, cardamom, 2 teaspoons of sugar, and vanilla. Whisk together, then add the pumpkin puree and stir until combined.

In a large skillet, melt 2 tablespoons of butter over medium heat as you dip each piece of bread in the pumpkin custard. Depending on your bowl, you can submerge each piece for a minute or so, or soak each side for approximately a minute each. When your bread has absorbed a enough custard, transfer to the platter of cornflakes and coat with the mixture. Pat mixture onto both sides with a little pressure so that the cornflakes adhere well. Add to melted butter in the pan and follow suit with 3 others slices. Cook in two batches of 4 for approximately 3-4 minutes a side or until cornflakes are golden brown and smell of caramelized sugar and butter. Use remaining two tablespoons of butter to melt in the pan between batches.

When finished, allow French toast to sit for 2 minutes so that the coating hardens up. Top with a pat of butter, a drizzle of maple syrup, and fresh berries if desired.

 

DIY Chalkboard Cake Toppers

DIY Chalkboard Cake ToppersWell, the semester has begun and though I wish I was creating blog content all the live long day, I’ve been back to teaching and guiding students through their first few weeks of gender & women’s studies classes. For the first time in a long time, I’m teaching some intro-level classes, which are my absolute favorite. Observing students as their minds are being blown is just the very best feeling as a teacher. These are the perks!

Before things really got underway this semester, though, I celebrated my birthday last week with a friend whose big day is just a day before mine. Surrounded by friends and loved ones, we drank champagne and ate an amazing Italian-inspired meal, al fresco, in our beautifully decorated side yard. It was quite a time! For dessert, I made us a giant cheesecake, covered in the season’s sweetest strawberries, and used these easy DIY cake toppers I had made the week before to make it extra special.

DIY Chalkboard Cake ToppersIf you follow my Instagram feed or checked out the highlights from Charlotte & Katie’s wedding feature, these may look familiar to you. I made Charlotte & Katie a pair for their wedding cake back in July and because they were just so easy (and almost criminally inexpensive), I followed up with a set for myself. What’s wonderful about them is that they’re reusable – the white paint that spells out your message of “Happy Birthday!”, or what have you, is written on a chalkboard paint background with a chalk marker! With a damp cloth, the slate is wiped clean and they’re ready to go for your next happy, cake-included, occasion.

DIY Chalkboard Cake ToppersYou’re limited here really only in terms of what shapes of wood you can find. While I’ve come across other shapes and sizes at Joann’s, these hearts are my favorite and are most applicable to a variety of holidays and events. Chalkboard paint, though, is available in so many different colors now and what you use as an accent color for the backs, edges, and skewers is entirely up to you. Now that I’m thinking of it, I wish I had tracked down a hot pink chalkboard paint because, paired with the metallic gold accent, it would have been a femme birthday dream come true!

DIY Chalkboard Cake ToppersThis is an easy craft that you can pull together in about an hour total, that costs only a few dollars, and will add a really personal touch to any future party. Arrange them on cakes, pies, cupcakes, and even stuck in the middle of a mound of cookies. They’re a sweet addition to any dessert and something you, or your loved one, can hang onto as a memory afterward or re-use in the future.
DIY Chalkboard Cake Toppers

DIY Chalkboard Cake Toppers

Supplies:
Two wooden cut outs in any shape; I used hearts from Joann Fabrics, which were under $1 each!
Chalkboard paint
Acrylic paint in color of your choice for backs, edges, and skewers
2 wooden skewers
Hot glue sticks & glue gun
Foam paint brush, about 1″ wide
Small thin-tipped paint brush, s square tip works best
Chalk marker, or regular chalk

Directions:
On a flat surface lined with newspaper, paint the backs and edges of your shapes with your accent color of choice; I used the foam brush for the back and the thin-tipped brush for the edges. If you get a slight bit on the front, just wipe it off as best you can, but don’t fret – the chalkboard paint will cover all. After the accent color has mostly dried – about 10 minutes – apply a second coat to backs and edges. When the second coat dries either move on to the following step or add a third coat if needed. Using the thin-tipped brush follow your shape and paint a perimeter on the front of the piece with the chalkboard paint so that you create a margin and don’t risk painting over the edge that you just painted with your accent color. Using the wider foam brush, fill in the shape with a coat of chalkboard paint and allow to dry. Follow this step for the front of the shape for at least three coats in order to get a truly opaque surface. Allow to dry completely. If need be, touch up the edge with your accent color.

When your shapes are completely painted and dried, heat your glue gun and ready your two wooden skewers. If you choose to paint the skewers in your accent color, painting them when you paint the shapes is the best plan, as painting them once they’re glued to the shapes is a bit awkward. Flip your shapes over so that the back side is facing up. Apply a small, 1/2″ or so line of hot glue to the back of the shape and press the top, non-pointed, side of the skewer into the glue. If the glue is not enough to encase the top of the skewer, apply a bit more glue over top so that it is covered. Do the same to the other shape & skewer and allow to dry completely. Hot glue is usually clear, so depending on your preference, you can either leave as is or, if you’d like, once the glue is hardened and cooled, you can use your accent color to paint over the glue and make it blend a bit more seamlessly. This step is optional.

Once the skewers are dried, the cake toppers are ready for use. Use a chalk marker for easy, seamless writing (or regular chalk if preferred) and spell out your message of celebration. Chalk markers can be easily removed with a damp cloth (avoid paper towel, as it catches on the paint and the wood). Allow surface to dry before re-printing.

DIY Vanity Trays

DIY Vanity TraysI track my femme roots these days back to my mother and grandmother who always worked within the confines of what they had – whatever shape and size of body, whatever financial means – to project confident, unwavering femininity. While make-up, jewelry, and perfumes do not, of course, make the femme, what I locate in them as femme-inine is the process and the pleasure, for my mother especially, that comes in adorning herself in heavy scents and lipsticks.

DIY Vanity TraysFor my grandmother, it’s the fun in assuming and identifying glamour in loud, fake jewelry (when she was younger) and the ability to stretch a dime without sacrificing her desired image. One of my favorite memories is of her showing me how to layer perfume on top of unscented lotion; the oils in the lotion hold on to fragrance longer, requiring one to use less, stretching the bottle further. We both still use that trick today.

DIY Vanity TraysIt’s no surprise then that as a little kid, the definition of fun was sitting at my mother’s vanity, or in front of my grandmother’s dresser, and admiring their things. Both kept neat, organized trays on top of their furniture where they lined up their favorite perfumes, lipsticks, and various pieces of jewelry. When I thought they weren’t looking, I would slide rings on to every finger, dig through earrings to find the shiniest clip-ons and spray myself up and down with various scents. You could smell me coming a mile away, but even if that hadn’t been the case, the jig was up when I broke out in a case of hives from too much Chanel no. 5.

DIY Vanity TraysMore or less a grown-up now myself, I also love a vanity tray and after changing some colors and patterns in my bedroom recently, wanted something bold, but pretty to keep my own everyday baubles arranged and accessible. When I saw these pastel hexagonal trays at Target in the dollar section, I knew I could use them in a variety of ways, but the vanity trays were first on my list.

With a little paint, scrapbook paper (which was also in the Target $1 bin!), and sealant, these trays are instantly upgraded to elegant, modern places to keep trinkets, keys, or even to hang on a wall as art. For me, they’re just the spot to keep my favorite perfumes, my current nail color, and my jewelry of the moment. Having a landing spot for these things helps keep mess contained and also from having tiny earrings roll away never to be seen again (…she says, having just lost a new earring last month in this exact fashion).

DIY Vanity TraysThese are a cute and creative DIY Mother’s Day gift, but also serve well as a small treat for just about anyone – who doesn’t need a spot to drop keys or spare change? For those of you heading into wedding season, what a cute little gift for a bestie or friend who is recently engaged or married as a new place to put their rings, as well. The ways to gift these are about as limitless in number as the ways to decorate them.

DIY Vanity Trays

Supplies:
Plastic hexagonal tray from Target’s Dollar Spot (or any other plastic tray or shallow vessel will do)
Scrapbook paper
Scissors
Pencil
Metallic gold acrylic paint
Mod Podge Gloss
2 Foam paint brushes

Directions:
Place the hexagonal tray on top of a piece of scrapbook paper and trace the outline of its base onto the backside of the paper. Carefully cut out the outline with scissors and set aside.

On a work surface, paint the tray with the metallic gold paint using one of the foam brushes. Apply one coat to all sides of the tray, as well as the interior. I did not paint the bottoms, but you certainly can if you’d like. Allow this first coat to dry and then assess if you will need a second and even, possibly, a third. After each coat, allow the paint to dry completely before applying another.

When the tray has received it’s last coat of paint and is completely dry, apply a thin coat of Mod Podge to the interior base of the tray and place your cut piece of scrapbook paper on top of it. Press down from the center and smooth out the paper working outwards. If bubbles develop under the paper, simply press them out to the edges and release them. Once the paper is in place and no bubbles remain, apply a thin coat of Mod Podge to the top surface of the paper, as well as to the sides you’ve painted. When it has dried, consider applying one final thin coat of Mod Podge to the paper if needed and allow to dry completely. When the Mod Podge has hardened to a glossy shine and is no longer tacky or wet to the touch, your trays are ready to use.

Two notes: Applying too thick of a layer of Mod Podge at any point will result in a tacky feel to the tray, so keep your layers thin to avoid this. If while pushing out air bubbles you accidentally cause a small tear in the paper, don’t despair! Cut a small piece of scrapbook paper to fit over the hole (just cut to the size of the tear, nothing much bigger), lightly brush the back with Mod Podge and adhere it to the spot. Once it has some time to dry, go over the patch with another thin coat of Mod Podge and it should blend in perfectly.

DIY Sparrow Place Cards

DIY Sparrow Place CardsI mentioned in my recent Coconut Chocolate Dipped Peeps post that, for me, Easter is a celebration of friends, family, and spring rather than anything religious. So while I’ve made these place cards for my Easter table, they would be a welcome addition to any springtime, or even summer, event that calls for some table flair.

DIY Sparrow Place Cards, SuppliesLook, the reality is that I’m only having 6 people over for Easter dinner – finding a seat is not going to be a real Olympics of the mind situation. That being said, though, I think a beautiful table is as important as the food you put on it when making a memorable day. In this case, that means having adorable sparrow-shaped place cards adorning everyone’s spot. My goal any time I host a meal or a party for friends, whether it be a small brunch with a bestie or a larger gathering to welcome a friend in from out of town, is to create the feeling that this day is special and that the people attending are cared for.

DIY Sparrow Place CardsEspecially for the queer folks among us whose family situations may be tenuous at best, gathering around a table with others specifically on a holiday can bring up a lot of conflicting feelings – including sadness and even relief. Surely, it’s all a process, but if taking the time and effort to make the day beautiful and the atmosphere warm gives someone a sense of home in the meantime, creating that is important to me. How could anyone see this pretty little thing perched atop their plate and not feel welcomed?

DIY Sparrow Place Cards

What’s nice about these place cards is that while they’re festive and, in many ways, seemingly elaborate, they require little skill and once the parts that involve tracing and cutting are done, they come together quickly. My dear friend, Katie – my co-host for our Easter/Springtime Celebration of Friends – and I knocked these out in about an hour after everything was cut out and ready to go. Another fun fact: they cost only about $1.50 each to make!

We chose sheets of scrapbook paper that coordinated with our color scheme in a variety of patterns – floral, polka dots, and plaid – so that regardless of gender or personal taste, everyone will have a place setting that appeals to them along those lines. Not that I expect the gents among us to really hold on to their tiny bird place cards afterward, but you know, thoughtfulness is next to godliness or something.

DIY Sparrow Place CardsWe really saved here in creating our own nests out of tiny vine wreaths that were about 50 cents at our local craft store, as opposed to pre-made nests of similar materials which were upwards of $3 each. For added realness, we added Spanish moss and tiny eggs to our DIY bird nests, which we would have used to decorate the $3 nests too, so we really did save quite a bit without sacrificing the look we were after or a bunch of extra time.

DIY Sparrow Place CardsWith several days left before Easter and many more days of spring and summer ahead of us, there’s plenty of time to add these sparrow place cards to your dining decor. Whether you’re a table of two, 12, or even 100, these are the perfect way to welcome guests and, simultaneously, tell them where to park it. Two birds, one stone.

DIY Sparrow Place Cards
Yields one place setting

Supplies
1 sparrow template, re-sized, printed, & cut out; I used this.
1-2 sheets of sturdy scrapbook paper; 1 sheet if you don’t mind the back having the same pattern as the front, 2 sheets if you want to combine patterns
Glue gun & glue sticks
Craft glue or Elmer’s glue
Small vine wreath
Spanish moss
One sheet of plain, white printer paper
Sharpie or other thin marker, color of your choice (you can also use the printer for writing names if you’re not great with handwriting; more on that below)
Scissors
Small, plastic bird eggs
Pencil

Directions

Step 1: Plug in your glue gun and allow it to heat up on the high setting.

Step 2: Using a pencil, trace the outline of your sparrow template onto your scrapbook paper so that you have a front and back with the pattern(s) facing outwards. The two cut-outs should be facing the same direction so that when glued together, they match up giving the bird weight and stability to stay upright in the nest.

Step 3: When you have both pieces cut out, use the Elmer’s or craft glue to adhere the front and the back together, but leave the beaks unglued for adding the name banner later. Set aside to dry.

Step 4: Free a small handful of Spanish moss from the bag. With the wreath on a flat surface, apply a ring of hot glue to its top edge and, working quickly, gently apply the Spanish moss to edge of the wreath concentrating the bulk of the handful into the center, creating a bit of a well. Be careful not to burn yourself. Once the glue is more warm than cool, press the moss more firmly into the setting glue along the top edge of the wreath. Allow to dry.

Step 5: Place a small bead or two of hot glue into the middle of the well of Spanish moss and place the feet of your sparrow into it, holding the bird part upright until it has dried and can support itself standing.

Step 6: Add some hot glue into the well in front of the bird, as well as behind and fill any holes or spaces with small bunches of the Spanish moss. You’ll want to partially obscure the feet so that it seems they’re nestled in the nest. Trim stray Spanish moss pieces with a scissor, as needed.

Step 7: Use a bead or two of hot glue to secure two eggs onto the rim of the wreath within the Spanish moss and allow to dry.

Step 8: Lastly, create and adhere the name banner. You can do this one of two ways. Initially, I cut out small banners made of white printer paper and hand-wrote the names, but later chose a font and color I preferred more, printed each of the names out on one sheet of paper, and cut out the banners from there. It’s up to you which option you choose. When envisioning your banners be sure to consider that about 1/4″ of one end will be between the the two sides of the beak, so make sure you cut the banners long enough. With the banners printed, apply a small dot of Elmer’s or craft glue between the two sides of the beak and insert the beginning of the banner. Press the two sides of the scrapbook paper together to adhere them together, setting the banner between the beaks. Allow to dry.

Step 9: Trim any stray pieces of Spanish moss or strings from the glue gun and store until ready to use.

Coconut Chocolate Dipped Peeps

Coconut Chocolate Dipped PeepsAt this point in my 30s, every holiday I host feels like the most special of days. I iron tablecloths, set out cloth napkins, plan a menu weeks in advance; all things my early-20s self would have scoffed at. But making home – and holidays always feeling like an important part of that process – means throwing myself into them fully, striving to make it a really special day for those who choose to share it with me.

While Easter has no religious significance to me, it’s still as good an excuse as any to gather with friends and welcome in spring over good food and drinks. What this means for Easter 2014 is a menu set, with a grocery list already growing alongside it, and place cards being prepped this very weekend. It feels extra loving to dedicate these efforts to loved ones even if it winds up being quite a bit of work.

Coconut Chocolate Dipped Peeps

Dipping them in chocolate is yet another step in the right direction, but coconut & chocolate? Divinity! I dipped these little jewels into white or semi-sweet chips that have been melted down with a little dot of coconut oil. The oil thins out the chocolate for easier, smoother dipping and adds the additional flavor of fresh coconut. What’s not to like? A few sprinkles or unsweetened coconut flakes (they were gone before I even got to taking pictures!) and you have a satisfying and festive treat absolutely worthy of spring and a houseful of your favorite peeps.

…See what I did there?

Coconut Chocolate Dipped Peeps
Yields 12 Peeps

Ingredients
12 Peeps
4 ounces of semi-sweet chocolate chips
4 ounces of white chocolate chips
1 Tablespoon of solid coconut oil, divided in half
Sprinkles
Unsweetened coconut flakes

Directions
Line a baking sheet or cutting board with waxed paper or a silicone baking mat. In two separate bowls add the white chips and the semi-sweet chips and half a tablespoon of coconut oil each. Put each bowl in the microwave and cook for 30 second intervals until chocolate is melted. Stir the contents of each bowl really well to thoroughly combine the oil and the chocolate. Dip each Peep halfway  in the chocolate, allow to drip off into the bowl and then place on the lined surface. For the white chocolate, you may want to do a double dip to get a more opaque finish. Immediately after dipping, shake sprinkles onto the chocolate portion of the Peeps or dust with coconut flakes. When finished decorating, pop the Peeps into the refrigerator for about 30 minutes and when time has passed, check to see if the chocolate has hardened. If not, given them another 10 minutes or so. Once the chocolate has solidified, they’re ready to eat or be stored in the refrigerator for about 7-10 days. The Peeps will be a bit firm when they come out of the refrigerator after a few hours or overnight, so you may want to give them a few minutes to soften before consuming.

Irish Cream Fudge with Guinness Ganache

Irish Cream Fudge with Guinness Ganache RecipeThough I’ve never marched in a parade for it, nor have I ever drank green beer, I still like to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day every year in some capacity. While there’s no Irish ancestry on either side of my family, my mom always made a corned beef on March 17th along with boiled potatoes and cabbage. We all looked forward to that meal each year, as if corned beef couldn’t be found and made for dinner the other 364 days!

Irish Cream Fudge with Guinness Ganache RecipeWhile I’ll be making this same treat-of-a-supper for Bear and I this St. Patrick’s Day, we’ll end our meal with this totally decadent Irish-inspired fudge. Obviously, this recipe was developed after we recently had a conversation about Irish car bombs, the drinks, and how they’re a curdled nightmare if you don’t chug them quickly enough; hi, my early 20s! Because we’re socially conscious killjoys on occasion, Bear schooled me on how the name “Irish car bomb,” is actually really culturally insensitive, pointing to the violence that erupted in Northern Ireland – including the deadly use of car bombs – in the 1970s-1990s. Rather than perpetuate this kind of wackness, we made a decision right then and there that if I was going to try and make us a fudge that incorporated similar flavors, we’d leave that name in the dust.

Irish Cream Fudge with Guinness Ganache RecipeNow that your history lesson is out of the way, let’s talk about fudge and how there are, generally, two basic approaches to it. The one I’m most familiar with includes chocolate melted alongside a can of sweetened condensed milk , later folded together with marshmallow creme and nuts. It’s easy and often can be done in the microwave. The other contains evaporated milk in place of the sweetened condensed milk and requires some boiling, a candy thermometer, and confectioner’s sugar. It’s a bit more involved and seems to yield a softer, albeit still delicious, fudge.

Irish Cream Fudge with Guinness Ganache RecipeI had planned on making this via the former method, but when I started to organize my mise en place I noticed I had mistakenly picked up evaporated milk instead of sweetened condensed. Zut alors! While this version did require the stove (whoa!) and keeping a close eye on the fudge’s rising temperature, it still came together in about 10 minutes. After a good, long chill in the fridge overnight, followed by a blanket of glossy ganache, and another nap to cool down again, it formed into this smooth, creamy confection. The fudge itself actually tastes like Irish Cream, which I’m very happy about, and while it’s certainly sweet from the confectioner’s sugar the bitterness of the Guinness in the ganache creates a very sophisticated flavor pairing – one that should, like my mother’s corned beef, be enjoyed throughout the year and not just on St. Patrick’s Day.

Irish Cream Fudge with Guinness Ganache RecipeAs a final note about the fudge, I’m storing mine in the freezer because the booze in the fudge makes it especially soft. Coming cold out of the freezer, I can slice it easier and eat it without fear of it getting too messy. It never actually freezes and rather stays a typical fudge consistency housed in the freezer. In the fridge, it is almost the consistency of a cookie dough, so fairly soft.

Irish Cream Fudge with Guinness Ganache
Yields one 8×8 pan; This recipe should be made at least a day in advance of serving so that it has enough time to chill and firm up.

Ingredients:
For the fudge:
1/2 cup of evaporated milk
1 cup of light brown sugar, packed
1 cup of white sugar
1-1/2 sticks of butter
1/4 teaspoon of salt
1 teaspoon of vanilla extract
1/3 cup of Irish Cream liqueur
2-1/2 cup of confectioner’s sugar, sifted
1/2 cup of chopped pecans

For the ganache:
1-1/2 cups of semisweet chocolate chips
1/2 cup of heavy whipping cream
1/4 cup + 1 Tablespoon of Guinness stout
Pinch of salt

Directions:
First, line an 8″x8″ pan with foil or parchment, allowing several inches to hang over the sides, and grease the lining lightly with butter or a non-flavored cooking spray. In a pot, over medium heat, stir together the evaporated milk, brown sugar, white sugar, butter and salt. Slowly bring to a boil, stirring often, and cook until your candy thermometer reads 236°F; this temperature is called the “soft ball stage.” Remove the mixture from the heat and stir in the vanilla extract and the liqueur. Pour into a mixing bowl and using either a hand mixer or a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, slowly, on low speed, add the confectioner’s sugar in 2-3 increments. When thoroughly combined, stir in pecans until incorporated, and then spoon fudge into the prepared pan evenly. Next, cover the pan with foil and place in the refrigerator until firm. If you’re not adding the ganache, allow to harden for at least 6-8 hours. If you are going ahead with the ganache, check the fudge after 3 hours. It should be firm enough by then to continue.

For the ganache, add chocolate, cream, salt, and 1/4 cup of Guinness to a pot over medium heat. Stir occasionally until the chocolate melts completely and the mixture is smooth. A whisk will help remove any residual lumps. Remove the ganache from the heat and taste it. If you’re happy with it, leave as is; if you prefer more of a Guinness flavor add 1 Tablespoon of Guinness, stir well, and check flavor again. When the ganache has reached the flavor you desire, allow the mixture to cool by either putting the pot into a bowl of ice or by filling your sink with several inches of cold water and allowing the pot to sit there for 20 minutes; stir or whisk occasionally. When the mixture is no longer hot and has cooled, remove your fudge from the refrigerator and pour the ganache over it. Use a rubber spatula to smooth the ganache over the entire top surface of the fudge. Cover the fudge with foil and allow to set up in the refrigerator or freezer for another 6-8 hours.

When the fudge and the ganache have set, remove the fudge from the pan by grasping the overhanging foil or parchment and lifting out the block. Peel off the liner and place the square of fudge onto a cutting board. Using a sharp knife, cut the fudge into squares. Keep in an airtight container in the refrigerator or freezer for up to 2 weeks.

‘Hibernate With Me’ Pillowcases

Hibernate With Me Pillow TutorialValentine’s Day is upon us once again, which means many of us are searching for a creative way to make someone we love feel special on February 14th and, really, all days of the year. While I can’t imagine anyone turning their nose up to any kind of candy or flower, a homemade project is a safe bet in getting your point across that you’ve got ALL.THE.FEELS. for your loved one. More than making something adorable or pretty that I know my sweetheart or dearest friend will appreciate, I’m all about also making sure that item is useful. No one needs an extra something – no matter how whimsical – to sit on a desk collecting dust, am I right?

Last year, I jumped on the ever-popular bandwagon of making long distance love mugs with Sharpies for two of my beloved friends on opposite coasts. They were a huge hit and inspired copious selfies drinking coffee out of our coordinated drinkware sent to each other via text. This year, I wanted to make something that was more romantically inspired; something you could gift to your boo(s), or the sweet thing you’re out to woo. Being that Bear is the apple of my eye, I started brainstorming ideas from there and eventually got to here with these ‘Hibernate With Me!’ pillowcases. These might look tricky to the less tech-savvy among us, but fear not! I’ve taken all of the work out of this for you and hooked you up with each and every one of the images you will need to re-create these beauties. All you need to do is download them, hit “print” on your printer and do some light ironing. Full deets to follow below!

First things first, it’s a miracle I even came up with a concept so adorable – “Hibernate With Me?” Come on! That’s so cute! I am *the worst* at coming up with slogans or catch phrases for things. If you knew how many ideas I went through before I named this blog, you’d pat me on the head a few times in second-hand embarrassment. I must have had the right amount of orange juice the morning I remembered that bears, in fact, hibernate – not to mention that ‘hibernating’ with a sweet someone is something most people want out of their Valentine’s Day! – in order to come to this, but when I did, I knew it had staying power.

Hibernate With Me Pillow Tutorial
I decided to use this idea on pillowcases for a few reasons, but mainly the first two that come to mind: 1) they suggest bedroom time with your sweetheart and 2) they’re an inexpensive option as opposed to creating a set of throw pillows. Maybe that last point is gauche when it comes to creating a gift, but I’m a thrifty girl who likes to keep an eye on her spending and DIY pillowcases make for an adorable, affordable choice. After considering a few options, like painting the lettering or using those fuzzy sew-on letters, I decided to look into the option of iron-on transfers and found that Avery makes some pretty highly regarded transfers that you can run right through your printer.

We live in the future.

Once I knew how I was going to execute this project, I focused on finding an image to accompany it. I wound up free-handing this one based on some examples I saw online and then, wanting to keep with a bright, cheery look, chose a simple red polka dot pattern to fill the bears with. My last decision was selecting a font in a trifecta of valentine-themed colors to really make things pop. After flipping the images horizontally in Photoshop (you have to print their mirror images so that when you iron on the transfer it reads correctly from left to right), it was an easy print on my standard inkjet, and then just a matter of cutting out the pieces and aligning them accordingly onto the pillow cases before hitting them with the iron.

A little bit of patience is needed for these. You’ll want to use a ruler and be deliberate in checking that you have the images centered and equal on each case so that when they’re side-by-side they read as a set. The arrangement and the measuring is, in all honesty, the most time-consuming part of the whole process and that’s pretty much 10 minutes if you’re being extra careful. Follow the instructions that come along with the transfers for the best results; I had only one spot where one of my letters didn’t fully adhere and I just gave it some more heat and pressure before it set perfectly.

Hibernate With Me Pillow TutorialCan’t you just imagine throwing open the bedroom door for your valentine to these propped up on your bed? It’s ok if you have to fan yourself thinking of the reaction it might cause. These pillowcases are sure to make anyone see hearts…just ask our meow, Ollie. He’s totally ready to hibernate. Like, anytime, all the time.

Happy Valentine’s Day!

‘Hibernate With Me’ Pillowcases
Supplies:
2 standard white pillowcases (100% cotton is best for the transfers)
1 package of Avery Light Fabric Transfers for Inkjet Printers (#03271)
Inkjet Printer with black & colored ink cartridges
Scissors
Iron
Ruler
Hibernating bear & text images, downloaded

Directions:
Read the instructions that come with the fabric transfers very carefully. Set iron to highest cotton setting and turn off steam feature. Allow to warm up for at least 5 minutes. After downloading the bear & text images, do a print preview of the images to make sure they’re scaled to the page and then print them according to the directions from Avery and set aside. You should print two bears that face left, two that face right, and one copy of each text image. You will notice that two text images are written backwards. This is correct. You need to print the text as a mirror image in order to have it read correctly when transferred.

Iron pillowcases lightly to rid of wrinkles and allow to cool. Cut out the bears and text images. Because of the size of the printer paper (8-1/2″ x 11″), you will need to cut the “Hibernate” out in two halves – hiber & nate – and align and affix together on the pillowcase. You will need to do the same with aligning the “With Me!” I chose to cut out the entire words and not each individual letter so that I didn’t have to worry about aligning all of the letters individually.

Work on one pillowcase at a time. Find the center of your pillowcase and arrange the bears as you see fit. Again, following the instructions from Avery, apply the heat and pressure of the iron to affix the bear transfers. Allow to cool as you measure and align the “Hibernate” above. It may help to keep a note to yourself with how many inches in from the edges the bears are, how many inches are between the top of the bear and the bottom of the word, etc., so that you can easily apply these same measurements to the other case. Once your “Hibernate” is aligned, apply the heat and pressure of the iron and then allow to cool. Replicate this process with the second pillow case. Allow both cases to cool before use. Wash inside out and on delicate or by hand for longevity.

A Femme Fraîche Original: Free Mother’s Day Printable Image!

If you haven’t yet figured out that sentimental something to give your mom this Mother’s Day – Pssst! It’s this Sunday, May 12th! – I’ve got you covered! Download and print the lovely, little above image that I handmade in honor of the day and gift it however you choose. I’m giving this to my own mom as a framed piece; I printed it on some 5-inch by 7-inch matte photo paper, put it in a pretty little cherry wood frame, and sent it straight to New Jersey with my DIY garden markers for the occasion. But you could also turn this into a card or even your mom’s desktop wallpaper!

For me, the message of “Home is where your mom is,” is resoundingly true. I may have my own home, the one I’ve made for myself, the one I share with Bear, but my sense of “home” – what that feels like to me, what it is – has been cultivated almost single-handedly by my mom (also known as the gorgeous lady in the above photo holding onto a miniature me). So much so, in fact, that the concept of “home” and “mom” feel inextricably linked for me, even when my physical home doesn’t still include her. This message seemed the perfect way to articulate that the truest sense I have of what “home” is, always includes her influence and her presence. If I can’t be with her to celebrate the day, at least I can remind her of these things from afar.

On an end note, I also want to just say that Mother’s Day can be hard. I know that not everyone has a good relationship with their mom, or one at all, and that not everyone has a mom to begin with, or a mother who is living, or, frankly, feels better off without theirs. That’s real stuff and I get it; Father’s Day for me is intense for some of these same reasons. Holidays that focus on family, that reinstate specific gender roles, traditions, sets of “values,” and that favor heteronormative unions and familial structures make days like this Sunday sad and complicated for a lot of people. So, whether you’re celebrating this weekend or not, or if you’re a mom or not, I hope that, either way, your weekend is lovely and spent surrounded by sunshine, the people that make you feel best, and the beauty of spring having sprung.