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fun valentine ideas

January 29, 2013

diy felt heart

Valentine’s Day is coming up and I want to share some of my ideas to make it a little more fun!  As I got going on this post, I realized I had gotten really carried away…I had so much I wanted to share!  I was afraid it was just too much to read in one post (since we are all so busy!) and I went back and edited it down to my favorite six ideas.  Check back the next two Tuesdays for additional Valentine’s Day posts!  Enjoy! 

NOSTALGIC     When I was growing up, there were some ‘given’ items my grandmother would always have on hand…like, fried potato sticks in a can or candy that looked like orange circus peanuts.   These were items she could purchase at the local discount store that was within her walking distance – since she never learned to drive.  Every year around Valentine’s Day, one item she was sure to have on hand was a big box of chocolate covered cherries…the kind with the super gooey centers.  As a tribute to my grandmother, I am serving my own version of chocolate covered cherries (minus the gooey center) – now a standard on Valentine’s Day.  Simply dip some fresh strawberries in melted chocolate…I added slivered almonds…yum :)

chocolate covered cherries

REFRESHING     Forget the sugary sodas or diet drinks this Valentine’s Day.  Try a refreshing glass of water lightly flavored with fruits and/or vegetables.  I like cucumber flavored water – adding a few raspberries to give some Valentine’s color!  Just let the water sit overnight for a wonderfully subtle flavored water in the morning…a refreshing change from soft drinks.

diy flavored water

SALUD    If a more potent drink is you or your sweetie’s preference on Valentine’s Day, shot glasses fashioned from ice are a ‘cool’ way to deliver it.  These were made from a shot glass mold sold by Fred Flare, but if you wanted to be inventive, you could make your own from two disposable cups  – one inside the other .  To make them a little more romantic, I floated a couple of flower petals in the water before freezing.  Salud!

photo of ice shot

CREATIVE      If champagne is your beverage of choice, be sure to save those cages!  I guess chairs fashioned from champagne cages are nothing new, but I only recently became aware of this activity.  There are even established competitions on the best designed chair!  Who knew?  You may want to start your own competition!  For my first creation, I designed a chair with a heart-shaped back in the spirit of Valentine’s Day.  To make a basic chair, all that is needed is a leftover champagne bottle cage and some pliers.  Fun!  This may have started a whole new interest in champagne drinking for me :)

champagne cage chair

SURPRISE     Don’t forget the kids.!  Valentine’s Day is on a weekday this year and a strategically placed note in a lunch box is sure to brighten a little one’s Valentine’s Day.  (Some of my best work has been slipped into a grammar school lunch box!)

Anything a little different from the usual can make your child’s lunchtime special.  It has been a long time (longer than I want to mention) since my kids have been in grammar school…but, one of my favorite things to do for them was to make surprise packets from brown paper.  I would cut two identical shapes from brown paper.  On one, I would use the sewing machine to make a decorative pattern.  (If you don’t have a sewing machine, you can hand stitch.)  I would then sew the two pieces together – leaving a small opening to insert treats.  After enclosing the candy, raisins, etc., I would sew up the opening – totally enclosing the items between the two hearts.

The fun part was that the packet had to be ripped open to reach the treats inside!  If your kids are new to this, you might want to stamp the words “open me” or “rip me open” on the outside so they aren’t hesitant to do so.  If you are a room mother (like I was), these make great party favors for the class Valentine’s Day celebration.

diy treat containers

If you would rather give something nonedible, another great little surprise are these really fun temporary tattoos I recently found online.  Key word here is temporary!  These are sure to put a smile on your littlest valentine’s face!

THOUGHTFUL     I originally made these cute felt hearts last year after I found easy directions to make them on Purl bee. I filled them with candy and slipped them into the packages I sent out to the college students for Valentine’s Day.

diy felt heart containers

Since then, these cute little items have found a much more valuable use.  When heading to the gym after work, earrings worn during the work day are tucked into these felt pouches as a way to protect them and to keep them from getting lost.  Now, I make them to give to others as jewelry cases.  They are also great to house odd buttons…a thoughtful Valentine’s Day gift.

diy felt hearts

I enjoyed sharing some of my fun Valentine’s Day ideas with you.  I am also sharing at The Inspiration Gallery & Craftionary.   I hope you will try one or two…or, be inspired to create something new.

Thanks so much for stopping by, Jackie


beach colors in january

January 25, 2013

What are “beach colors” to you?  Beige and blue?

Friday field trip this week is to the beach at sunset to explore January’s beach colors.

Not yet cleaned up after Hurricane Sandy, technically the beach I am visiting has been closed since the storm.  That, coupled with the fact that the temperature is in the single digits here in Connecticut, I wonder why I chose to make this a field trip!  Largely because of the frigid weather, my trip to the beach is a short one.

My stay is not more than twenty minutes long, but as always, I am not disappointed by the display of colors.  I don’t get as many opportunities to view the sunsets at the beach in the winter months since they occur during work hours…my sunset viewing usually limited to the weekends…until the days get longer anyway.

So, what do you think of as the colors of the beach?  Would these colors come to mind?

How about these?

Maybe not so much?

The photos I am sharing today were all taken at the same beach on the same visit and within a 20 minute time period.  I did not alter anything on any of the photos (not that I would know how to if I wanted to lol.)

colors of the beach in winter

Isn’t nature amazing?

winter beach colors

Can you tell one of my fantasies is to create a paint line lol?  I also dream about creating a collection of nailpolish colors with cute, cheeky names, but that’s for another day…

winter beach colors

I think showing swatches of some of the colors I saw on my beach visit is the best way to illustrate the amazing display and range of colors I witnessed on this frigid visit…I think it was even too cold for the seagulls!

winter beach colors

So beautiful!


winter beach colors


winter beach colors

I hope you enjoyed the amazing collection of colors from a winter day at the beach…especially those of you that may be landlocked.

Have an amazing weekend and remember to take pleasure in simple things…beauty is all around us!

Thanks for visiting,  Jackie

I am sharing this post at Mosiac Monday at Little Red House.


homage to hot tea month

January 22, 2013

National Hot Tea Month

Did you know January is National Hot Tea Month?  When I happened upon this fact, I wanted to create a dessert as an homage to the occasion.  I am a little obsessed with Food Network, so, with Kitchen Stadium in the back of my mind, I attempted to create a dessert using tea as the secret ingredient.

Earl Grey is my favorite tea, so I knew that was the starting point.  My first impulse was to make a cookie…the wonderful flavor of the rosemary shortbreads I made over the holidays was fresh in my mind.  Earl Grey shortbread?  Seemed a little too obvious for Kitchen Stadium.

Ice cream?  Creme brulee?  My final idea:  a cream puff filled with Earl Grey infused whipped cream.  To finish it off; a lemon glaze…it is tea after all…lemon should pair well.

cream puffs infused with Earl Grey infused cream

A photo of pleasure in simple thing’s homage to National Hot Tea Month. Cream puffs filled with Earl Grey infused cream and topped with fresh lemon glaze.

After a few experiments, I found that six Earl Grey tea bags were the amount that gave the result I was looking for.  I heated up whipping cream and used the tea bags to infuse the cream.  Then, I put the cream in the fridge overnight…okay, in kitchen stadium I would need to use the blast chiller.  Anyway, I chilled the cream.  That way, I was able to get the Earl Grey flavor into the cream.  After I made a standard cream puff, I filled it with the cream and added a simple lemon glaze.  Perfect!  I think I was pretty successful in creating my homage to National Hot Tea Month!

Probably everyone has a cream puff recipe, but I will include one here with the cream and glaze recipes, for your convenience.

Earl Grey Infused Cream

  • 1 1/2 cups of heavy whipping cream
  • 1 1/2 Tablespoons of confectioners sugar
  • 6 Earl Grey teabags

Heat the cream until very hot, but not boiling.  Steep 6 Earl Grey teabags in the cream for a good 15 minutes, until the cream turns a beige color from the tea.  Squeeze the excess cream from the tea bags before discarding them.  Cover the cream and put in the fridge overnight (or the blast chiller for a short time ;) ).  When you whip the cream, add the confectioners sugar gradually.  Don’t whip the cream too far ahead of the serving time.

Lemon Glaze

  • 1/2 cup confectioners sugar
  • 1 1/2 Tablespoons fresh lemon juice
  • grated lemon peel (optional for garnish)

After cream puffs are filled, mix the sugar and lemon together and spread over the top of each puff.  Sprinkle with grated lemon peel, if desired.

Cream Puffs (Choux Paste)  18 to 20, medium-size

  • 1 cup water
  • 1/2 cup unsalted butter
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • 1 cup flour
  • 4 eggs (plus 1 additional egg for glaze)

Preheat oven to 425 degrees.  Lightly grease a baking sheet and set aside.  In a pan over medium-high heat, bring water, butter, salt, and sugar to a boil.  When butter melts, remove pan from heat, add flour all at once, and beat with a wooden spoon until well blended.  Reduce heat to medium.  Return pan to heat and stir vigorously with a wooden spoon until mixture forms a ball and leaves sides of pan.  Remove pan from heat and let mixture cool for 5 minutes.  Add eggs, one at a time, beating mixture after each addition until smooth.  Let batter cool for 10 minutes before shaping.

Use two spoons to shape the cream puffs.  With one spoon, scoop up about 1 heaping Tablespoon of batter.  With other spoon, push batter off first spoon and drop in a mound onto prepared baking sheet.  Place mounds about 2 inches apart.

In a small dish or cup, beat 1 egg with 1 teaspoon water.  Brush egg glaze lightly over tops of puffs, being sure it doesn’t drip down sides and onto baking sheet (preventing proper rising of puffs).

Bake in upper third of preheated 425 degree oven for 15 minutes.  Reduce heat to 375 degrees and bake for 5 more minutes.

Cut a slash in lower side of each puff and continue baking for 10 minutes or until puffs are firm, dry to touch, and golden brown.  Let cool on wire racks.  Use within 24 hours; or wrap airtight and freeze.  Makes about 18 – 20 medium-size puffs.

When ready to fill, carefully cut the top (upper third) from each puff (scoop out moist , doughy interior if desired).  Shortly before serving, fill with a heaping Tablespoon of the whipped Earl Grey infused cream and spread top with lemon glaze.

Cream Puffs filled with Earl Grey infused whipped cream and topped with fresh lemon glaze.  How do you think they would fare in Kitchen Stadium?

Served with a cup of tea…what better way to celebrate National Hot Tea Month?

Thanks so much for visiting, Jackie

I am sharing at the Inspiration Gallery at Craftberry Bush, Blissful White Wednesday at Timewashed, and Well Crafted Wednesday at The Well Crafted Home


grilled cheese from a truck

January 18, 2013

Caseus cheesetruck

Today’s field trip is a lunch excursion.  I had some business in New Haven and decided, while I was in the Yale University neighborhood, to take a lunch break at my favorite food truck…The Caseus Cheesetruck.  This truck is a mobile version of Caseus Fromagerie Bristro – a restaurant and cheeseshop in downtown New Haven.  The star of its show is grilled cheese.  Who doesn’t like grilled cheese?  If you don’t, you will most likely find a version you will like here.

There are many combinations of ingredients available…one better than the next!  You can bypass cheese entirely and order a soup or salad….or, how about a grilled nutella and banana?

With temperatures in the 20’s and a stiff wind, it probably wasn’t one of my better ideas.  During the week, the truck is always parked on or around the Yale campus so the surroundings are always fun to admire, and on this trip I was trying to use them as a distraction from the cold.  I have an obsession with the doors on campus, so I tried to concentrate on them and not on my impending frostbite!  I almost decided to give up on taking any photos entirely as my fingers went completely numb!

I forged on…determined to show those of you that might not have ever seen the truck, just what it looks like.  Don’t let the sunny look fool you…it was freezing!!

Admiring the doors of the buildings on Yale University campus while walking to the Caseus Cheesetruck for lunch.

I opted to go for the traditional grilled cheese – in the case of Caseus, this involves a combination of seven or so cheeses.  I decided to add one ingredient – pesto (just because I love pesto).  I do think a classic grilled cheese and a tomato soup is a great choice for a first-timer.  It helps you realize just how elevated this standard can be when prepared by Caseus.

A photo of my choice for lunch from the Caseus Cheesetruck…the classic with pesto added. The sandwiches are served with a side of pickles and mustard.

There have been times (when the weather was nicer and my visit to the cheese truck was more leisurely) when I have been lucky enough to witness a ‘cheese truck challenge’ in process.  This is something worth witnessing at least once.  Any one customer able to consume 10 sandwiches in under an hour recieves the sandwiches free and can name the sandwich.  The challenger is required to add at least one ingredient other than cheese to the sandwiches.  The “tekin” for example, is named after Etkin Tekin.    Tekin was the first one to successfully complete the challenge.  His creation consisted of adding guacamole and bacon and he completed the challenge in 32 minutes and 4 seconds.

It is a fun visit, challenge or not…

The cheesetruck is definitely worth trying – if you go, maybe just pick a day where the temperature is at least a little above freezing!

Thanks so much for visiting!

Please have a wonderful weekend and remember to take pleasure in simple things, Jackie

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gift for book lovers

January 15, 2013

I am a real fan of personalized pencils and I love to give sets related to a theme…isn’t it always about a theme? The last time I made up a set of pencils for a gift, it was with a beach theme. This time, I am creating a set for book lovers. Since I put myself in that category, I had fun coming up with sayings to have imprinted on the pencils…restricting them to 30 characters.


Packaging a gift is always part of the fun. Usually I give sets of pencils in the great plastic tubes available at Garnish (like I did with the ‘beachy’ pencils), but I knew for this book lovers set I really wanted to do something with pages of a book. This is what I came up with:

As a fun wrap for a set of pencils for a book lover, I sewed two pages of an old book together to make the package and adorned it with flowers fashioned from book pages.


book lovers gift wrap

I love using the sewing machine as an unexpected way to put paper together. In this case, I sewed two old book

pages together making the package for the pencils. I also made some paper flowers and a leaf out of a book page and glued them onto the package. A small scrap of linen and some rubber stamps created the gift tag. Writing the name on the paper leaf would be another fun option as a way to label the gift.

Consider giving a set of pencils as a is fun coming up with the possible imprints for a theme, staying within the number of characters allowed for the imprint. This is an affordable and fun gift that can be used creatively for any holiday or occasion. If you need purchasing information, check the beach theme link above for ideas.

Thanks so much for visiting.

I am sharing this project on Craftberry Bush…check out the other projects posted!

Hope you are having a wonderful week and remember to take pleasure in simple things, Jackie


the road less traveled

January 11, 2013

friday field trip

There is nothing new about a brewery in Connecticut…it isn’t the first, by any means.  The interesting thing about this newest brewery in the state is the location.  It occupies an old factory building not far from the historic district in the south end of Stratford – oh, and it has a cool name.  It is called Two Roads Brewing Co.…hard not to like something named after a Robert Frost poem.

A brewery is certainly “a road less traveled” for me, not being much of a beer drinker…or any kind of drinker for that matter.  I was really more interested in checking out the renovated building and the state-of-the-art brewery than I was to sample the product.

There is a very large ‘tasting room’ that oozes with future possibilities…private parties are inevitable and, with so many colleges nearby, I expect many young people also.

The ‘tasting room’ overlooks the brewing facility, making it an interesting place to meet a friend for a drink.  The place has a warehouse vibe – a unique environment that has incorporated many of the original parts of the building it inhabits.   My favorite was the top of the bar.  I later found out it was made from wood repurposed from the original factory floor.

Beer is sold in tasters, pints, growlers, and six packs and there is already a strong local following and a presence across Connecticut.  Someone ordered a growler to take home when I was there and I have to admit I was kind of mesmerized by the machine that filled it up.  It is probably standard brewery equipment, but I had never seen one before.

A photo of a selection of tasters at Two Roads Brewing Co. in Stratford, CT. The bar is made from the original factory floor repurposed from the old building the brewery occupies.

I probably should have planned my visit a little better since I did not realize tours were given on a formal basis and I wasn’t there at an appropriate time to take a tour.

Although there is no food being served at Two Roads, I heard the Caseus Cheese truck (the Caseus Cheese Shop food truck from New Haven that serves gourmet grilled cheese sandwiches during the week to the surrounding Yale community) parked outside one weekend and other local food trucks have plans to make future appearances.  What a great idea.

All in all, Two Roads Brewing Co. was a really interesting place to visit and,  if you are a beer drinker, a wonderful place to drink.  I would like to make another trip when I can take the tour.  Are you wondering if I tried the product?  Yes, I did.  I’m still not a beer drinker, but I would make another trip to Two Roads Brewing Co.  Hey, it’s all about trying new things, right?

Thanks for visiting.

Have a wonderful weekend and remember to take pleasure in simple things,  Jackie

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valentine raspberry stuffed french toast

January 8, 2013

Yes, I have already started thinking about Valentine’s Day…the sweet part anyway!  Valentine’s Day is about all things sweet.  Even those that shy away from sweets give it a shot on February 14th!  I always think of an indulgent breakfast or bunch as the ultimate way to celebrate Valentine’s Day.  As a lover of all french toast, particularly the stuffed variety, I came up with a combo fit for a sweetheart…raspberry and mascarpone cheese make up the inside and combine perfectly with a hint of almond and some coconut on the outside. With the ingredients ready ahead of time, this decadent Valentine meal won’t take much longer to prepare than your standard breakfast, but will prove so much more appropriate!  If time is super short on the 14th,  you can always postpone preparing this dish until the weekend.  The recipe is for two, but it would be easy enough to increase the ingredients accordingly if you are making a family meal.

For an added show of affection, I cut a heart shape into the bread with a cookie cutter :)

Recipe for Valentine’s Day Raspberry Stuffed French Toast for Two


  • 4 slices challah bread, cut to ¾” thickness
  • ½ cup mascarpone cheese
  • ¼ cup seedless red raspberry jam
  • Approx.  ¼ cup sweetened flaked coconut
  • 2 eggs, whisked
  • ¼ cup milk
  • 1/8 tsp almond extract
  • Oil as needed
  • Butter
  • Sliced almonds for garnish
  • Fresh raspberries for garnish
  • Fresh mint for garnish
  • Confectioner’s sugar for garnish


  1. Mix cheese and jam in a small bowl.
  2. In a separate shallow dish, beat eggs and stir in milk and almond extract.
  3. Spread coconut on a plate.
  4. Lightly brown both sides of the bread in the oven.
  5. If desired, cut a heart shape with a cookie cutter in two slices of the bread, reserving the hearts.
  6. Spread the cheese filling thickly over the solid pieces of the bread and top with the heart cut piece.
  7. Heat oil at medium high heat in a frying pan large enough to accommodate the two sandwiches.
  8. Dip each sandwich in the egg mixture (let sit in the mixture a few seconds to absorb), coating both sides.  Then coat both sides in the flaked coconut.
  9. When oil is hot, add a pat of butter to the pan and fry the sandwich, cooking till hot and lightly brown on both sides – flipping once.
  10. Put onto a serving plate and add the reserved heart cutouts, sift with confectioner’s sugar.
  11. Garnish as desired with fresh raspberries, sliced almonds, and sprigs of mint.


Serve with champagne and a chocolate?  Just as special served with juice in a ‘fancy’ glass if you are serving to the sweeties under 21!

A photo of valentine raspberry stuffed french toast. Challah bread is filled with mascarpone cheese and raspberries and a hint of almond and coconut is added in this creation fit for a sweetheart.

I hope you will enjoy this valentine raspberry stuffed french toast…on Valentine’s Day…or, any day!

Thank you so much for visiting.

Remember to enjoy the pleasure in simple things, Jackie


shopping christmas past

January 4, 2013

friday field tripAnthropologie

In the ‘old days’ I would shop the big department stores the morning after Christmas, excited about getting a good deal – sometimes standing in line for hours to get a few rolls of the perfect wrapping paper or some gift tags at half price.



The excitement for this activity has worn off over the years…mostly because stores never close!  Today, there is no big deal about waiting for the store to open on the morning of the 26th!  And, the sales start way before the holiday even begins!  Today, if you do want to shop the after-holiday sales, it is much more efficient to shop on-line…finding the best availability and shopping the lowest prices for holiday wares.


Still, old habits die hard and I couldn’t resist stopping in a store the week after Christmas. I happen to be driving past an Anthropologie and decided to make a stop. Although there was not very much holiday merchandise left, and certainly no long lines to get inside, I felt compelled to walk around the store. This year’s holiday ‘paper cut’ theme was still displayed and I enjoyed greeting the salespeople with ‘Happy New Year’ and walking around to get some final glimpses of the season past.



So, even though I didn’t stand in a line in front of a department store for hours waiting for it to open, or come home with my arms full of wrapping paper rolls, I realized that I did get exactly what I wanted.


My visit to Anthropologie made me realize that I really don’t want the shopping experience reduced to another computer function…particularly at holiday time when senses are in overdrive.

The experience of visiting a store – greeting people, touching fabrics, comparing the smells of candles, feeling the heft of a pitcher…these are all the things I wanted. I hope these are the things you want too.


A photo of a papercut hanging on a light fixture created by the display staff at Anthropologie…a work of art!


Happy shopping :)

Take pleasure in simple things, Jackie

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duchess of york book giveaway

January 1, 2013

the duchess of york ~ sarah fergusonThe Duchess of York

Congratulations to Jessica (from the blog Brand New “We”), the winner of the December book giveaway.  Jessica has won a copy of The Shoemaker’s Wife signed by author Adriana Trigiani!  (Click here to see more about it.)  It is a wonderful book Jessica…I am certain you will love it!

For January, the giveaway will be a little different…I am excited to be giving away a children’s book for the first time… because it is a special one from a New York Times best-selling author!  I recently had the opportunity to have tea with The Duchess of York, Sarah Ferguson, when she visited the New Canaan library in Connecticut.  I asked her to sign a copy of her latest children’s book Ballerina Rosie to use for this month’s giveaway book!  I will give away this encouraging story of an aspiring dancer at the end of January – randomly, to someone that has made a comment during the month as a way to thank you for visiting.  Click here for the full details.

The January giveaway book from

Any child you know is sure to enjoy this charming story and beautifully illustrated book signed by The Duchess of York…or, you may just want to keep it for yourself!

A great giveaway to start off the first one of 2013!  I also have two special New Year’s gifts that I will mail out to the first two people to wish me a Happy New Year!

The start of this new year is the perfect time to thank you all for visiting my blog.  As a novice, I especially appreciate everyone’s support.  This has been a very challenging year for me and the support and friendship I have received through ‘pleasure in simple things’  has really helped me through 2012.  Please continue to visit.  I look forward to 2013 with much anticipation and I am looking forward to sharing it with you.

Enjoy a safe and happy 2013.  Love, Jackie

“Your success and happiness lies in you.  Resolve to keep happy, and your joy and you shall form an invincible host against difficulties.”   – Helen Keller