5 Ways to Hygge Your Home

So the holiday decorations have been put away, and your home feels bare. On the bright side, you decluttered. Consider your living space to be a blank slate, a fresh start before bringing on the hygge. 

What exactly is hygge? This buzzword, pronounced "hyu-gah," exploded into pop culture in 2016, and has been named Word of the Year by both Oxford and Collins dictionaries. Simply put, hygge is "a quality of coziness and comfortable conviviality that engenders a feeling of contentment or well-being (regarded as a defining characteristic of Danish culture)."

Denmark and Norway practice hygge as a culture year-round, but especially in winter. The Northern hemisphere experiences limited sunlight and bitter cold, and their way of celebrating comfort is an art.

Below are 5 ways you can practice hygge this winter. 

Gather

To beat the isolation that can occur in winter, Danes often invite friends and family over for intimate gatherings. Sometimes it involves a nature walk to soak up  vitamin D in that sliver of time the sun is out. Per the below photo, my friends and I enjoyed an outdoor walk, then warmed up by a fire pit, drinking craft beer.  Regardless, it ends with everyone indoors for a cozy get-together. And what is a winter gathering without comfort food? Bake something to share.

Get Lit

Stack some wood in the fireplace and settle in. Cut off the harsh overhead lights and light candles to give your room a warm glow. Danes burn through more candle wax than any other European country - about 13 lbs per person per year!

Warm and Fuzzy

Weighted blankets, faux fur comforters and soft throw pillows, there are all things that will make you feel safely cocooned, as you Netflix and chill.

Hot Stuff

If it's warm, drink up. Comforting beverages like hot cocoa and whipped cream, or peppermint tea and honey are the way to go. Extra points if you put down the phone and pick up a book.

Bundle Up

Wool socks and cashmere sweaters feel as good as they look, but nothing's better than an old pair of sweatpants. Hyggebukser is an actual term for a worn pair of pants you would never wear in public, but secretly treasure. 

Though Los Angeles is generally warmer, desert climate calls for chilly evenings, even during the summer. On cold winter nights (there was frost guys), friends would gather around the fire at our cabin, drink spiced mulled wine and because every gathering has one, some guy would inevitably pull out a guitar.

Year after year, Scandinavians are voted the happiest people in the world. While it's true that employers and the government promote an incredible work/life balance, part of the picture is their focus on comfort, and living well. And during these winter months, we need all the hygge we can get!

 

...And Mom and Dad Can Hardly Wait for School to Start Again

From us here at Ladles and Linens, we hope you're having the happiest of holidays. We also know this time of year can be fraught with stress and over-packed schedules. It can be a struggle staying mindful about slowing down and being in the moment. 

It could be little things, like treating a cousin to a peppermint mocha. Or everyone agreeing to put down their tablets to take in It's a Wonderful Life, which serves a strong reminder to be more grateful. Board games, caroling (even as a joke flash mob - trust me, it's amazing), preparing a great meal; these are all things that can bring us together.

Some say that the week between Christmas and New Year's Day is the longest week of the year. ...and Mom and Dad can hardly wait for school to start again. It can feel especially long if you encounter political arguments, spoiled children or cannot find a decent hiding space. Try to reframe this added time as a gift. I make jewelry or bake chocolate chip cookies.  If the kids are running circles around the house, take them out sledding and help them burn off steam. If everyone's buried in their phones, pull out a game of Apples to Apples, and up the ante by giving the winner a gift card.

In short, you deserve the kind of holiday they sing songs about. Give it your best shot. Happy holidays!

 

Feast of the Seven Fishes

We have Catholicism to thank for the Feast of Seven Fishes. From as far back as the Roman era, they would "fast" before Christmas. I put "fast" in parentheses because  it usually meant they abstained from meat. And on Christmas Eve, they'd enjoy the bounty of the sea. Southern Italian immigrants brought the tradition to the United States, and it disseminated from New York City's Little Italy in the 1800s to well-appointed homes in the American South.

Sarah Nicholas and her family have made an annual tradition of Feast of the Seven Fishes, and it was effortlessly elegant. Not too mention a far cry from what I imagined this meal was like. I always pictured loud gatherings in Italian tenements, with all the bickering and kissing and the elbowing of one another. Clearly I've seen my share of mob movies from the 1990s. 

There were beautifully-plated bacon-wrapped shrimp, truffled cod with Moroccan couscous, cured salmon with fresh-chopped garlic, au-gratin scallops over mushrooms, lobster bisque, shrimp scampi, whitefish spread, seafood lasagna, lobster ravioli, clam chowder quiche, and I haven't even touched upon the charcuterie, sides and dessert. It may as well be called the Feat of the Seven Fishes. Hosting a dinner like this is not for the faint of heart.

For this reason, I marveled at Sarah's ease. Shoulders back, languid on the couch, laughing. I try to pull off this aura, but I often forget to take off my apron, or I keep jumping up because I forgot "one last thing."

At the Nicholas home, Bing Crosby played softly on the speakers, birch candles gave off a fresh, sprucy scent and children pulled Nutcracker-themed candy poppers after dinner. The evening was decadent, yet Sarah made it feel like she "woke up like this."

Happy holidays, everyone!

Dazzle Holiday Guests with a Chesapeake Favorite

It's the most wonderful time of the year - especially for les gourmands. Not only is this cold weather allowing us to indulge in comfort foods, but during the holidays we are being impeccably served. Prime rib with horseradish and Yorkshire pudding, homemade chocolate bark dusted with crushed candy canes. I could go on.

Richmond Chef Tammy Brawley knows her way around a holiday party. As the owner of The Green Kitchen, it's a busy time of year! She hosts private chef dinners, works as a personal chef, does catering and even hosts cooking classes at her Church Hill location. 

When I asked what one of her favorite recipes was, she didn't hesitate. Crab cakes with lemon dill sauce is a mix of comfort food and sophistication. As we are all Chesapeake Bay-adjacent, owning a covetable recipe is practically our birthright. Below, she will walk you through how to take your holiday party up a notch. 

Crabcakes

2 lbs crab, lump works best, but claw meat is fine as well, as long as it’s picked thoroughly for shells

1 Tablespoon mustard

1 teaspoon= 25 mini crab cakes

dry mustard

1 Tablespoon dried parsley, or 2 tablespoons fresh parsley, chopped fine

zest and juice of 1 lemon

½ cup ground crackers or dry bread crumbs, more might be needed

2½ ounces parmesan cheese

2 eggs

¼ cup mayonnaise, more might be needed

butter and olive oil

Directions

The amounts are approximate. It’s best to “feel” as you go.

Put crab into a large bowl. Add mustards, parsley, lemon zest and juice. Mix thoroughly by hand.

Add ¼ cup ground crackers or dry bread crumbs, to start. Add parmesan cheese. Squeeze a small handful together to see how well it holds. Reserve remaining ¼ cup.

Add 1 egg to start, mixing again thoroughly. Squeeze a small handful together to see how well it holds.

Add 2 tablespoons mayo to start, mixing thoroughly. Again, check for how well it holds together.

Here you can add more crackers or dry bread crumbs, the 2nd egg and the remaining mayonnaise if you find it necessary.

Place plastic or parchment on a sheet tray. Form crab cakes evenly, either in mini 1 ½ ounce size or larger if desired. Place crab cakes on lined sheet tray.

Have burner on medium low and warm enough butter and olive oil to cover bottom of pan. Once butter and oil are thoroughly combined, raise heat to medium, for about 2 minutes. Add crabcakes and pan-fry until golden, flipping once. Serve with Lemon-Dill Sauce

Lemon-Dill Sauce

1 cup mayonnaise

2 tsp. grated lemon rind

1 Tbs. lemon juice

3/4 tsp dried dill

1/4 tsp. garlic powder

1/4 tsp. hot sauce (optional)

Stir together.  Chill.

 

Leftover Turkey? Make Some Jerky!

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!

Ladles and Linens has a lot to be thankful for this year, and it has to do with you. Thank you for shopping local and supporting small business. And thank you for making the world a more delicious place!

As a rule, it's always better to make too much food than just enough, because you'd be saddled with worry about running out. Besides, leftovers means less cooking and more time to relax. Speaking of leftovers, why not switch up the turkey sandwiches for a healthy snack to carry you through the hectic holiday season? Turn that bird into turkey jerky!

Cooked turkey works just fine. Since it can be a dry bird, don't simply depend on the natural juices it was cooked in. To help preserve the jerky, the marinade needs a good amount of salt. And to give it oomph, make it zesty. Thinly slice the remainder of the turkey (against the grain), set your oven or dehydrator to 175 degrees, and use one of the below marinades to season your turkey overnight. Once in the oven or dehydrator, it should take about 2-4 hours for the jerky to be complete, depending on the thickness of the slices. The meat should bend before it breaks - that's how you know it's ready.

Americana marinade: Worcester sauce, soy sauce, brown sugar, salt, pepper and herbs (use your discretion; rosemary, thyme, sage, etc)

Korean BBQ: Sesame oil, soy sauce, brown sugar and garlic salt. Top with sesame seeds

Buffalo: A little olive oil and a lot of Texas Pete

Mexican: Soy sauce, cumin, hot salsa, lime juice, chili powder and a bit of lime zest

 

 

 

 

Making Friendsgiving Extra Friendly

I'm all about family, but friends are the family you choose. And Friendsgiving (a Thanksgiving meal between friends) can be an ideal alternative if you're far from your hometown. For one, it's often not as fraught regarding politics, and the group gathers on their own volition, not familial obligation

Oftentimes, the host pulls from a wide variety of friends who are far from their families, ensuring that you'll meet some fresh faces. Another perk is that since this feast is already taking the non-traditional route, why not switch up the menu? I've always wanted to host an Indian-inspired Friendsgiving, with Tandoori turkey, aloo gobi to replace the mashed potatoes and cranberry chutney.

Traditionalists will not be pleased with me, but here it goes: turkey is tasty, but in my opinion, an overrated bird. Less juicy than chicken, less flavorful than duck. So why not switch up the theme altogether?

You could throw a soul food feast, with fried chicken, collard greens, cornbread and sweet potato pie. Or a Chesapeake-inspired seafood boil, with shrimp, corn, crab legs and cornbread. The possibilities are endless. Here are some other ways to make the occasion special:

  • Have everyone take tuns around the table to describe one thing they are thankful for. Oftentimes during the busy season, we're too busy or stressed to practice gratefulness. 
  • Add a signature scent to the dinner, and light candles around the home with seasonal notes, like pumpkin spice, cinnamon apple or orange clove.
  • Bring the outdoors in. Take a little hike around your neighborhood and find things of beauty: waxy, fresh-fallen leaves in yellow or red, pinecones or firethorn branches, dripping with orange or red berries. Run these along the center of your table
  • Create a leftover station ahead of time, with take-out containers decorated with a Friendsgiving-y theme, like a turkey or autumn leaves, with the words Thank you for being a friend. It's a thoughtful parting gift!

So remember, if you find yourself without plans this Thanksgiving, throw your own Friendsgiving! You likely aren't alone, and can gather a grateful little group you don't get to spend as much time with.

Happy holidays!

Richmond Chef Puts a Twist on on a Classic

If it were socially acceptable to eat an entire plate of mashed potatoes, that would be my Thanksgiving meal every year. But I'm an outlier, as the real crowd-pleaser seems to be the pie.

And when it comes to Thanksgiving dessert, people are split into two camps: pumpkin and apple. I always like a twist on a classic, and prefer pumpkin cheesecake to the actual pie. And I'm not alone. Richmond chef Christine Wansleben of Mise En Place also loves a good twist. Her go-to dessert recipe is  Sour Cream Apple Pie, a holiday favorite her family looks forward to every year. It's so delectable, she sometimes eats it for breakfast...with ice cream!  

Like any good cook, she has well-worn baking instructions. And to get us all into the holiday spirit, she's decided to share the recipe with us! Be prepared for a season of hosting by stocking up on these baking essentials from Ladles and Linens!

"It's made with ingredients you already have in your home, and just as good if you use a roll-out pie crust," Wansleben added. The timing couldn't be better - apples are in season. If you're looking forward to holiday baking, visit Mise En Place for  a Soul Food for the Holidays class on 11/22, Cocktail Party Favorites on 12/5, and more!

Fun Ideas for Halloween Candy Leftovers

When it comes to entertaining, it's always better to have too much  than too little. On Halloween, I'd hate to flick off the porch light and miss the kiddos just because I ran out of candy. This means leftover candy, and no complaints here!

I love Halloween candy bark. Always use dark chocolate or semi-sweet chocolate chips as the base, because the candy on top will elevate the sweetness. Simply melt dark chocolate or semi sweet chocolate chips in a double-boiler, a copper pot on low heat or crock pot. Use a spatula to empty and smooth out the melted chocolate onto a cookie tray. Once the surface is level, add in candy corn, M&Ms, candy bar pieces, and pretzels for a salty twist. Let it cool at room temperature, or in the refrigerator. Once it's cooled, break apart and share!

The holidays are right around the corner, so if you plan on baking, you can always press your leftover Hershey kisses into peanut butter cookies to make the holiday classic Peanut Butter Kiss cookies. Peanut fanatics can also swap out Hershey kisses for mini Reese's Peanut Butter Cups.

All you need is a glue gun and styrofoam wreath to make a candy wreath - a holiday or birthday present that will no doubt bring joy to any child (or adult) lucky enough to receive it. If you have an excess of Tootsie Rolls, the brown and orange color scheme make it a perfect autumn wreath to hang up every year. 

And if you still have leftovers, put some aside for a pinata at the next birthday party you throw. Make little baggies of treats and keep them in your car for when you come across someone in need. Halloween candy is always best when it's shared. 

Happy Halloween, from Ladles and Linens!

Anyone with an Instagram account could tell you that last weekend was Halloween party central. While I enjoyed the photos, I opted out. Ladles and Linens' own Sarah Nicholas had invited us out to a house on the bay for a little R&R, and we were in dire need of it.

Turns out I didn't miss the festivities after all, because Sarah brought the Halloween spirit to the bay house! The Ladles and Linens tagline is, "It's always a kitchen party, & everyone's invited!" This weekend, it could not be more evident that Sarah practices what she preaches. I've known good chefs and wonderful hosts, but Sarah makes me wonder if she doesn't skip sleep altogether. I don't know how she does it. 

Where to start? A chocolate skull cake with decadent peanut butter and cream cheese filling? Green mac & cheese and mummy hot dogs? How about the glow-in-the-dark skeleton PJs she bought for the children, including mine?

There was hot coffee every morning. A fully-stocked bar. Keeping with the fall theme, we filled up on her hearty pumpkin soup, with a Thai curry kick.

On a private beach, you can drink to your heart's content. And we did just that, with refreshing vodka cocktails. We kept the spooky theme, with flavors like Monster Mango and Poison Apple

We played Halloween Twister (below) and somehow, she found the time to make "dirt pudding" - chocolate pudding topped with chocolate cake crumbles (to resemble both mud and dirt) with gummy worms as earthworms. Disgustingly delectable!

There were scary movies to watch and spooky books to read. And during the day, there was salt air and warm sun. Readers, I wish you a very happy Halloween! And stay tuned, because next week, I'll share some great ideas on what you can do with your Halloween candy leftovers!

Halloween: Christmas for Creatives!

Halloween is Christmas for creatives. This time of year, I tend to be a little extra, as evidenced by the above photo. I must refrain from looking at Pinterest before bed, else falling down the rabbit hole until the sun comes up. Whether you're throwing a party or want to put a surprise in your kid's lunch, here are a few simple ideas to keep October festive!

Marshmallow spiders: This requires zero cooking, and minimal melting. Simply melt some chocolate, or white chocolate with food coloring, to make any color spiders you'd like. To avoid burning the chocolate, always go with a crock pot or double-boiler. Push pretzel sticks into the marshmallows to mimic legs, dip and swirl these marshmallows in the chocolate, and allow to dry on wax paper. While drying, you can create little eyes by painting a dot of chocolate on white chocolate chips or frosting. If you'd like, you can garnish the spiders with sprinkles.

Well this one is truly disgusting. To avoid gill lines, either boil your hot dogs or cook them in a cast iron skillet. Then peel away the skin on the top to mimic a fingernail, and use a paring knife to mark creases where the joints would be. 

Just when I thought things couldn't be more gross, the rabbit hole just got deeper. This sweet treat requires no cooking, and the flavors are so complimentary! Simply drain a can of lychees, stuff a blueberry in each, secure with a sword and drizzle in a bit of strawberry jam. On a beautiful serving platter, they will disgust and enchant. 

Now, pardon me while I attempt to finish my day without opening up my Pinterest app...again.