Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Ringing in another year. . . . . . .

"Thank you" - each and every one of you, very dear readers and 
commenters who followed A Breath of Fresh Air for yet another year. 

Come February I will start my eighth year of blogging. Some of you have been 
with me all this time, and I appreciate that so much. 
Others were new this past year and I thank you for joining me on my journey. 
Sharing the ups and downs of daily life, whether on a rough ocean miles from 
home, or here tucked away in the cottage at the kitchen stove, has been a lot of 
fun and allowed me to visit with you in your special corner of the world also.

May your new year be one of peace, joy, good health, happiness, prosperity
 and adventure. Please continue sharing your interests, your photos, your 
creativity, your stories, through blogging. . . . . . .as I plan to do. It brings much 
pleasure to my life, and hopefully to yours also.

Monday, December 29, 2014

Wedding Day to remember. . . . . .

What can I say other than the day was one of the happiest ever. . . . .for me, 
our family, new friends, many of whom had traveled far.
It drizzled some, but of course the Brits didn't mind!
The bride was drop dead gorgeous, her attendants incredibly lovely.
Venue was amazing, food delicious, wedding cake scrumptious, 
liquid refreshments plentiful.
The age group was phenomenal - five months to ninety - and everybody danced!

The biggest surprise of all, making this wedding truly a whirlwind affair, 
Cassie and Richard, determined to do it right, had taken ballroom dancing lessons! 
Their first dance was a real dance, a perfect foxtrot with several dips, no trips, 
and much concentration.
One guest held up a 10 points sign, applause was deafening.
All I can say is, it was a beautiful wedding, everyone was very happy, and 
we all had a wonderful time celebrating the newly married couple.

Sunday, December 28, 2014

She's all grown up!

 Cassie & Richard's Summer photos

My beautiful granddaughter Cassandra met a wonderful Englishman.
They became friends. Very close friends.
They traveled to England to view the Olympic Games.
They became runners themselves.
Neither ran away. 
He bought a ring. She bought a gown.
They set a date.
This week his family flew across the pond.

Last evening in the North Carolina countryside, as the sun went 
down, we had a wedding rehearsal and a fabulous dinner.
We met lovely new people. British accents were heard. 
A little English princess was dressed like a rose, but named Lily. 
Her tiny baby sister never cried, instead smiled at all we strangers 
with her clear baby blues.

As we sleep I think we'll all be dreaming of a beautiful wedding.

Friday, December 26, 2014

Entertaining with Earl Grey. . . . . . . .

He's delicious in a pretty china cup balanced on a matching saucer. . . . . . that 
very well known Earl Grey.  Being one of the most well known teas in the West, 
his delicious citrus flavor infused with a dash of aromatic orange bergamot, delivers 
an uplifting tea with a unique floral aroma.

But, Earl Grey can also flavor other tasty morsels, such as this fruited teacake.
It's such fun to make a cake with a nice strong cup of tea thrown in.
I no longer make the huge traditional English Christmas cake - a rich, dark fruited
monster weighing several pounds, and baked in early November to enable
the addition of several 'feeds' of rum or brandy over the weeks 'til Christmas. 
For the past few years this small teacake with raisins, sultanas and chopped 
walnuts has worked well. I still add a layer of almond paste and soft 
icing made with fresh lemon juice, just like the real thing! 

Teatime today - a slice of cake with a cup of tea - celebrating 'the Earl' on a Winter afternoon.

Do you have a favorite tea you enjoy sipping?

Eggs, pasta ------------- and bacon perhaps!

Happy Boxing Day to all my British, Canadian,
Australian, New Zealand, African readers - any and all around the world who 
celebrate this fun day.

 I rarely eat a 'cooked breakfast' preferring a bowl of oatmeal with fresh berries, 
yogurt (my current favorite being Noosa brand's strawberry rhubarb), or just 
slice of toast (must be really crunchy bread, dislike soft toast) with English thick cut, 
slightly bitter orange marmalade. . . . . and coffee, lots of strong black coffee.

Bob enjoys making his own breakfast most mornings - cereal with berries 
and banana, yogurt, a toasted English muffin and orange juice.
On Christmas morning I decided to surprise him with this breakfast
dish simply called Bacon and Egg Linguine. It kicked off a relaxing morning 
with something unsweetened to tide us over until dinner in the early evening. 
Recipe is simple and would be easy to make for a small brunch crowd.
 Cook linguine until al dente.  Meanwhile dry-fry pancetta or thin sliced bacon 
until crisp, drain on a paper towel and keep warm
Drain pasta, add a little olive oil, freshly grated Parmesan cheese, finely 
chopped parsley and good grinding of black pepper. Serve in warmed bowls, 
topping pasta with the bacon and a fried or poached egg cooked your favorite way.

My own version is without the bacon of course. I enjoyed it and think this would 
make a good Boxing Day brunch, lunch---------or a light supper dish with a green salad alongside.

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Have a great Christmas!

May your holidays be full of joy.

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Baking frenzy. . . . . .

Yesterday I baked all day - first a batch of eggnog and cranberry scones to give me 
strength, and to soak up numerous mugs of coffee, during a day slogging over a hot stove. 
They were OK but will probably require toasting to finish them up.  
Or perhaps even better, they will make a fancy Christmas dinner for the birds!

I also made this prune, apply, brandy cake - always a favorite to serve warm as 
a dessert, or keeps a few days to serve as a very moist cake which is what I'll put out
on the Christmas Eve buffet.
Another cake made - no pics yet, is an Earl Grey Teacake, which tomorrow 
will be wrapped in marzipan and iced, my smaller version of a fruitcake.
I finished baking the sweet things this morning - 3 dozen traditional English
individual mincemeat pies (these are all fruit NOT meat!). Tomorrow I'll make 
brandy butter to serve with them.
Last but not least, early in the morning, I'll rustle up a load of tiny piquant onion, cheese and 
olive scones to serve with a big wedge of yummy Stilton. . . . nice bottle of port alongside.
Oh Christmastime - you certainly keep us baking!

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Here comes Santa Claus. . . . . .

Do you shop at Aldi? I do quite often because besides great fresh produce, 
often locally grown, I find fabulous food items from Europe, especially 
now for the Christmas season-------and where else can you find a good
New Zealand Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc for just $6.99?

Aldi is part of the Trader Joe group, but prices are much lower. Being somewhat 
bare bones doesn't bother me - the staff are helpful and everything moves along 
at a fast clip. No free bags, I take my own, and no credit cards, so I have 
to remember to go with cash as I don't do debit. Kinda the old-fashioned way
of grocery shopping, and you leave the store with quite a lot for your money.

This past week you might have seen these large German made Choceur 
brand chocolate Santas, 10" tall/7.5oz, and just $1.99 each. 
I purchased several. They make a great decoration - and mine will be 
tucked into some special Christmas stockings soon-------to save Santa 
some work as he surely has enough to do!

I'm off to bake more almond cookies now - I bet many of you are
doing something similar in your holiday kitchen today.  Enjoy!

Saturday, December 20, 2014

Friendship at Christmas. . . . . .

I've certainly been extra busy the past week - but had such a great time with 
family, and many wonderful friends, as we all prepare for Christmas. 

Mary and Paula - Two Old Birds
via Rob Pheil

This week, fabulous friend Paula came all the way to North Carolina 
from San Francisco -  accompanied by great friends Kim and Rob - for a fun three day 
pre-Christmas visit, where we shopped and ate and shopped some more--------and to 
attend my granddaughter Jasmin's special Christmas choral concert.  

The day this pic was taken in front of the most appropriate shop sign at 
the Vintage Village, 'Two Old Birds', was the anniversary of the day the 
two of us first met 52 years ago in Washington, DC. If you aren't familiar with 
our awesome longtime friendship, go HERE to see where Paula took me in 
2013 to celebrate 50 years as BFF's.
Whoever knew that two adventurous 'young chicks' from the same town in England, 
would meet here, in the nation's capital, and form a bond which has lasted over 
half a century!
Paula, Kim and Rob, thanks so much for coming to see us--------
and have a fabulous Christmas in California.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Keeping Christmas calm . . . . . . . .

. . . . . . . .with the assistance of Santa's reindeer!

I know some of you have already been rounding up your own herd of 
these cute little china guys.
When I first heard about them being tethered to the shelves at Lowe's, I 
quickly shoved Bob into his car, armed with a list to go reindeer hunting 
for me. I was still in PJ's and fleece robe that chilly morning, it would have 
taken me far too long to get to the store before they were all gone.

As it happened, when Bob arrived at the first Lowe's location near us,
 the shelves were almost empty. These little guys come two to a box and I
 had requested six white ones. According to Bob, there was just one box of 
white ones remaining, with plenty in green, which didn't quite work for me.
He paid for the white ones and then headed off to another Lowe's store .
Next phone call was to inform me there were NO white ones left but several
brown reindeer were looking for a holiday home. After determining they 
were a handsome chocolate brown, and would look good with those 
brown candles I'd found, I ended up with a little herd of my very own 
consisting of two white and four brown.

I'm using my reindeer as table decorations now, and this one is 
guarding the plum pudding until Christmas dinner. 
They can also be hung on a tree or used as place markers later. 
These cuties will be hard to pack away after the holiday season . . . 
I may let them graze here throughout the entire winter!

See those noses? I'm really tempted to add a little red ball to just one!!!

Edited:  Sorry folks, I really couldn't resist!    Ho! Ho! Ho! Rudolph.

Monday, December 15, 2014

Oh Christmas Trees - - - - - - -

This year we've not purchased a live tree. We're really lacking space and 
expecting a lot of company at one time, this means nobody can move with 
drink/plate of Christmas nibbles in hand without perhaps tripping over 
something - a tree would be hazardous!
Instead the very lovely symbol of Christmas will shine in other ways 
around the cottage.

You may recall this little metal tree - vintage perhaps, not certain though, 
could be repro - found at SuzAnna's Antiques a couple of years ago. 
I've used it here before and also in the living room. With the addition of those
 popular very tiny LED battery operated lights, it looks pretty at night.

I use it mostly to display my collection of bird ornaments and crystals.

I've also added a few mementos from last June's trip to the Baltic States and 
St. Petersburg, Russia - the Swedish Dala horses and the Russian icon.

In the living room is "Bob's Tree". A ceramic musical tree lit with glass birds, 
made especially for Bob by one of his co-workers many, many years ago. 
I thought she was most generous to do this for him, it's beautifully painted, 
and plays 'Frosty the Snowman'  . . . . . .and Christmas just wouldn't be 
Christmas for hubby without 'his tree'.

My new 'tree' purchase this year.  I saw this old door, 
complete with vintage hinges and lock, and beautifully painted by Emily, 
whose mom Susie and sis Jenny, are the owners of fabulous 
SuzAnna's Antiques.
I think this is a perfect WELCOME sign at the cottage entrance.

Every year the screened gazebo gets decorated with a faux tree. 
We can view it from our kitchen and living room windows and not worry 
about it getting in the way inside the cottage. It can stay up through the 
long cold winter nights, shielded from the winds, safe from visiting wildlife. 
Sometimes I remove the ornaments after Christmas and leave it up longer 
with just lights. It looks so beautiful if we have a snowfall - something I'll be 
looking forward to perhaps in January when people are not facing so
much travel.

O Christmas tree, O Christmas tree, thy leaves are so unchanging - - - - - - - 
O Christmas Tree, Oh Christmas tree, such pleasure do you bring me.
(O Tannebaum - traditional German Christmas song) 

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Photo Challenge December. . . . . .

The season surrounding Christmas and a coming new year gives us many 
opportunities to take and share our photos.
Posting on what Christmas means to each of us, and adding our photos taken
around our home, or of family and friends and holiday celebrations,
 allows us freedom to express ourselves in many ways.

Because of Donna, our gracious hostess for the Personal Photo Challenge, 
we have snapped and gathered our photographs to share with one another 
each month throughout the year. . . . and what a lot of fun it has been. I have 
always looked forward to every fun challenge.

December's topic, Christmas Scenes (and perhaps we'll also be treated 
to some Hanukkah scenes which would be nice) is an easy one, hardly a 
challenge, more a modern way to wish one another holiday greetings when we 
may not have a mailing address to send an old-fashioned card.
So, here's to you dear friend - may your Christmas 
be full of special moments and many blessings.

I took several photos this month as I decorated the house and garden for the 
holiday season. I love Christmas, I love tradition. I have however changed
my decorating style indoors over the past several years, not because I no 
longer like bright reds and greens, more because silver and gold, cream and 
white, make it easier to keep many of my year round items in place. I then  
add Christmas decor and natural items such as live greenery, and of course this 
year the wonderful brushed nickel pumpkins I shared in this recent post .

The gazebo at dusk dressed for Christmas 

Outside, the garden in December becomes bare and almost colorless when you 
live in a non-tropical climate, but at Christmas you can light it up easily. Then the cold, 
dark nights take on a special brilliance.
Here in the southeast we still have plenty of leaves falling, but there are tall pines,
winter grass, ivy, and even shrubs which stay green despite the chill in the air.

All pics taken with the Nikon Coolpix S6400. 
PicMonkey is responsible for a little editing 
including  the 'dusk' effect.

Go HERE to visit Donna's Personal Photo Challenge blog and share your 
holiday photos.
As most of you know, sadly this will be the last 'challenge' for a while.
Donna is very busy caring for, and staying close to dear Mr. Jim during his
 illness. We are praying for them both during this difficult time.

Friday, December 12, 2014

Christmas treasures found. . . . . .

SuzAnna's Antiques - Emily's Signs

On a recent visit to SuzAnna's Antiques  - go here to see what's still on offer 
for Christmas - and the surrounding wonderful Vintage Village shops, I did find a 
few things so pretty I just had to bring them home for the holidays!
If you know my taste in home decor and Christmas decorating, you will most 
likely be able to guess which ones they are in these three pics.

SuzAnna's Antiques - at the Vintage Village, Raleigh, NC

Two Old Birds - Vintage Village, Raleigh, NC

This 'special tree' on the porch of the 'Two Old Birds'  fabulous shop in the 
village grabbed my attention. Difficult to capture in a photo at night, and 
SO beautiful, I have to share it with you because it's an idea I'm keeping 
in mind for Christmas 2015. 
They left a tree outside all year, allowing it to drop its needles and dry out, then 
this season gently sprayed it unevenly with artificial snow and added just a 
few bright red feathered cardinals - all the decoration required to make it so 
natural looking and eye catching thanks to owner Susan's former career as a 
very creative florist.
 I completely fell in love with this look and will try to replicate it for an outdoor 
tree on my front porch next year - go ahead, call me a copycat! 
(I think it might be a fire hazard for indoor use so wouldn't advise that). 
I'll be looking for a pre-loved tree soon, perhaps even pick up a discarded 
one up at the curb, and will set it in the back garden where it will await  
transformation at this time next year.

Are you finding that Christmas decorating ideas this year are quite amazing?
Of course the online offerings from around the world are awesome, but 
personally I'm finding wonderful ideas right here in my local shops, garden 
centers, even the big box stores.

Happy Christmas decorating.

Oh, did you guess which pretties came home with me?
Emily's painted Christmas Tree door
The two little silver handbags
The two crusty painted pots/saucers