Rainy Day Fun: Making Pierogies

If there's one thing more comforting than carbs, it's carbs stuffed with carbs. And if that weren't comforting enough, you top it off with sour cream. Pierogies do for your soul what chicken soup claims to do.

Perhaps it's because each pierogi is made by hand with care. If you gather a small group of friends to make them together, the whole experience, from creation to consumption, is special. 

Our Ukrainian friend Kristy guided a small group of us through her family recipe, with a filling of goat cheese, potatoes and farmer's cheese. It's heaven. But you can get inventive with fillings. My husband had made sloppy joes from scratch, and I smashed them with baked potatoes for a hearty, meaty filling. We spent hours laughing, storytelling and eating our way through a ridiculous amount of food. 

Here are some ways to make it, as my friends say, "a whole vibe":

  • This is a rainy day activity. If it's warm and sunny out, especially in winter months, soak it up while you can. Pierogi-making is for when you want to avoid blustery weather and hunker down in comfort.
  • If you're going to make pierogies, do it in bulk. It's such a labor-intensive recipe, it's best to roll up your sleeves, hit your stride and make them en masse. They freeze beautifully.  

  • Invite three to four friends so it's intimate, but still a little factory-like, so you can belt out the goods. Play music in the background, light candles, and serve a wintry cocktail. Since you will undoubtedly be snacking on pierogies all day, put out a spread out with different types of food, like crudite and hummus and a charcuterie board
  • Make sure you are fully-stocked with rollings pins, trays, a stock pot and a comfortable outfit that you don't mind having covered in flour.

There's something therapeutic about working with your hands. Therapy has never been so delicious. 

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!

Make Your Memorial Day BBQ the Talk of the Summer

It's that time of the year again. Teachers can barely contain their students because the whiff of summer is in the air. And come this weekend, we'll be kicking off the season with Memorial Day BBQs. The air will be thick with smoke and the squealing sound of children, as pools will open their doors across the country.

Sometimes in an attempt to make their party stand out, hosts eschew tradition. But  Memorial Day is a perfect example of why some traditions exist. People want to be outside after a long winter, and soak it up before heat and humidity set in. A BBQ is perfect. But how can yours stand out, and properly kick off summer like no one else?

Step Up to the Plate

Parties will be awash in paper plates and red Solo cups this weekend. Why not step it up a notch and use real plateware? You can even mix and match colorful dishes to make it less formal, even playful. This sustainable option means less waste and less space being taken up in landfills. Will it mean more time at the dishwasher? Yes. But you're sending a clear message to your guests: they're worth it. 

Get Saucy

Grocery stores are stocked with BBQ sauces made cheaply with high fructose corn syrup. Those in the know will grab Sweet Baby Ray's, which is usually the only good option. But why not go for a fresh new sauce that will have even your most polite guests licking their fingers? Ladles and Linens carries the Virginia-based brand Clark & Hopkins. Their zesty Bloody Mary mix and BBQ sauces equal sticky fingers around the table.

The Reason for the Season

When was the last time you went to a Memorial Day BBQ that actually acknowledged the meaning of the holiday? Not that the party should be a somber affair. In fact, there are positive ways to remind people of those who made the ultimate sacrifice. Have guests make toasts to friends or family in the military, or share a story about them. If there are children at the party, gather them up, show them photos of people in military uniform and teach them to thank these soldiers for their service. Serve oysters on a gorgeous porcelain dish, and call it the Pearl Harbor Platter. Make your grilled burger "extra tough" with jalapenos or hot sauce, and call it "The General Patton." 

Don't Hate the Player

Nothing screams "Party's Over!" more than guests wandering inside for your remote control. Keep the party engaging by busting out some classic summertime/field day games! Adults and children alike love to be competitive, though adults need a little more coaxing than children at first. You know what will embolden them? Prizes, like gift cards! So fill up those balloons for a good old-fashioned water balloon toss; race while balancing an egg on your spoon. And folks, I'm not above a good game of musical chairs

Elaborate toppings at my party

Top it Off

Famous hostess and writer Nora Ephron wrote a lot about entertaining, and stressed the fact that that people love to play with their food. There is something fun about the communal activity of fondue or Korean BBQ. Build a toppings bar that goes beyond ketchup and mustard. Once, for a bonfire I hosted, I scanned my fridge and pantry for out-of-the-box topping ideas, and the options filled an entire table (pictured above). If you're grilling hot dogs or burgers, consider what you already have. My toppings included caramelized onions, cranberry chutney, crushed pineapple and homemade habanero sauce. Guests compared notes and enjoyed strange combinations. 

A rule of thumb when entertaining is to always ask yourself, "Why be boring?" And with that, your summer kick-off will be one for the books.