I thought I would start sharing some images from my sketchbook. Lately, I’ve been painting a lot of fun little images based on nature. I love adding a touch of whimsy when I can. I spend a lot of time going on hikes, and it brings me so much joy to tap into my imagination while doing something I love. I painted the little bear for my niece and the deer was for a friend.
I started taking art lessons when I was twelve. I had the most wonderful teacher, an artist named Gail Dyess. When I was still a kid, I told her I wanted to learn how to do illustrations and character drawings. She didn’t assume I was too young to learn–she taught me how to do it. Mrs. Dyess started teaching me watercolor lessons in eighth grade. I continued classes with her until I was 18 and then I studied art in college. But after I graduated, I got busy with life and stopped painting and drawing.
Last year, I decided I needed a new creative outlet. I have cherished memories of my Mamaw’s beautifully decorated cakes, so I took a few months of cake decorating classes myself. I had a great time, but I felt like I didn’t enjoy making gum paste flowers or fondant figures like I thought I would. Then…my friend Indira sent me a video on cake painting. By that time, I had already pinned a few painted cakes on Pinterest. I was intrigued. One afternoon this summer, I decided to give it a try, and I was hooked! It was just like painting with watercolors. It took me right back to those classes with Mrs. Dyess and the excitement of a fun art project.
My friend Carie asked me to bring a painted cake to the Denver Woman’s Press Club holiday party on Monday. I chose the illustrations of E.H. Shephard from the classic Winnie the Pooh stories as inspiration and created a storybook cake. I freehand painted the images on fondant with food coloring. It was my first finished cake. Words cannot explain how nervous I felt about it, but I’m happy with the way it turned out. And I’m so grateful I have such supportive friends!!
I’ve been playing around with hand lettering. I plan to experiment with some watercolors, but for now I’m using colored pencils and pen. I’ll post more soon!
I wanted to share a fun Easter project with you. I decided to try a fancy version of Easter eggs this year. I painted them with craft paint in some of my favorite colors. It took a couple of coats to get the eggs covered. I then brushed on some clear glue and sprinkled craft glitter on top. I’m excited about the way they turned out, and I’m looking forward to an egg hunt with a little bling. If you decide to try this at home, make sure to use high quality glitter that has a fine texture. You get a better coat that way. Do you have a favorite egg craft?
I used the bird paintings of John James Audubon for some fun gift tags this year. If you would like to learn more about the artist, PBS produced an amazing documentary on his life in their American Masters series (you can read about it here). I used a gigantic book of Audubon prints that I found in the bargain section of my local bookstore to make gift tags. You can use artwork from any book–or even magazine–of your choice. See the steps below:
Select artwork that appeals to you and fits into your theme for gift wrap. If you choose to use Audubon birds, many varieties will work–not just cardinals. Blue birds, quails, and many other subjects would look great with some gold ribbon on brown gift wrap.
Cut the art away from the page, but do not cut out the entire outline yet.
Adhere the art to cardstock using an archival glue stick.
Cut around the outline of the artwork using small scissors.
Thread a needle with gold thread. Insert the needle and thread through the art. Use the thread to secure the artwork to a bow with a couple of small knots. Trim the edges, and you’re done!
To see my post on using seashell art for stationery gifts click here!
Unfortunately, I think many people are afraid to use color–hence our gravitation toward neutrals and earth tones. I’ve actually always had a problem with the word “earth tone” because planet earth abounds in vibrant color combinations–not just tan and brown. And if mother nature is not afraid to pair hot pink and green beneath a bright blue sky, we shouldn’t be afraid to mix colors either. Colors have such a powerful impact on our mood and relationships that we shouldn’t cheat ourselves out of experiencing them in our homes.
People in all branches of art and design rely on color relationships. You’ve likely heard the term “color wheel” and have probably seen a few–maybe at your local home improvement store or in an art class in high school. Whether you are decorating a cake, redesigning your bedroom, or creating a painting, it helps to refer to one.
A color wheel organizes colors by their specific relationships to one another. I’ll explore more about this in future posts, but for now we’ll focus on complementary colors and analogous colors. If you look at the example of the color wheel, any three colors that are directly beside each other are called analogous. Pairing analogous colors creates a harmonious, soothing combination. Colors that are directly across from one another are called complementary. These colors “pop,” appearing more vibrant and lively when paired. Classic complementary relationships include blue and orange, yellow and purple, and red and green–which brings us, strangely enough, to Christmas.
Pairing complementary colors, like hot pink and mint green, or aqua and gold makes for a visually appealing presentation. If you are going for pops of color, with a fun, vibrant feel, choosing these combinations in pure, saturated hues is the way to achieve your goal. If you would like a soothing, calm holiday atmosphere, choose from a spectrum of analogous colors, like different shades of blue, or reds, pinks, and whites, and then throw in a small amount of complimentary colors for visual interest. You can use this approach when decorating all year long. For a great article on analogous and complementary colors, check out the Color Matters website here.
Swedish painter Carl Larsson (1853-1919) focused mainly on domestic subjects of his own children. I think the sweetness and cheer in many of his works perfectly captures the joy of a young, adventurous family. They are great reminders of the happiness and innocence of the holidays. Some of the paintings below were not specifically painted for Christmas, but the colors and subject matter still seem fitting for the season. Enjoy!
I wanted to share one of my Christmas projects: beaded felt ornaments. I started making these a few years ago. I’ve made lots of different animals in the past, but making birds is my favorite. I’ve always loved birds since I was a little kid, and giving them whimsical beaded accents on these ornaments is fun. I draw each one, sew them, and then embellish them with beads and gold stitching. It really feels like drawing a picture, but with fabric. I’m posting these birds in my Etsy shop, and I’ll keep adding different designs from time to time. Do you have a favorite holiday craft or art project?
Today finds most of us preparing for tomorrow’s feast, but we all know that one of the most fun parts of Thanksgiving is the leftovers. Reheating a plate of turkey and stuffing is a joy reserved for post-holiday relaxing, but there are many more creative ways to repurpose your holiday fare. Also, if you have family in town and the leftovers are starting to dwindle, you may be looking for ways to extend the food supply with little effort. And don’t forget quick meals are essential if Black Friday shopping is on your to-do list! This is why I’ve compiled some ideas and links for easy, budget-friendly, and yummy uses for your Thanksgiving leftovers. Enjoy!
This Italian omelette is perfect year round for refrigerator-dump style breakfasts. You can make a Thanksgiving version for a late breakfast or brunch. One of my favorites is seasoned green beans and sweet potatoes with a little roasted red pepper and feta, but almost any combination works well. Just dice leftovers and add in whatever you have in your pantry or fridge that will amp up the flavor. Try tossing in some turkey with a swirl of pesto, a few potatoes, and some leftover parmesan from your cheese platter. If you don’t have a favorite frittata recipe on hand, try a play on Alton Brown’s here or Martha Stewart’s here.
Overnight Breakfast Strata
If you have unused rolls or croissants from your bread basket, this dish is sure to be a hit. Just assemble it as you put away your Thanksgiving leftovers and leave it to set overnight in the fridge. Simply bake in the oven for a pre-shopping breakfast that will feed a crowd. Or serve it with a spinach salad for an effortless breakfast-for-dinner meal. As the recipe says, any combination will work. Ham, asparagus, and swiss sounds lovely, doesn’t it? Read the recipe from blogger Ezra Poundcake here.
Turkey, cranberry sauce, whole grain mustard, with cheese and greens is always a delicious combination, but there is no need to stop there. Spread cranberry sauce on a simple grilled cheese to dip in hot soup or layer leftover veggies with some roasted peppers in a panini. One of my favorites is this grilled ham and Gruyère sandwich with pears. And again, if you have leftover dinner rolls, you can easily update the recipe by baking mini sandwiches in a warm oven.
So, you have some green beans, some mashed sweet potatoes, and some turkey, but not enough to make a whole meal for the family. Simply reheat them together with some chicken stock, add in some celery and cannellini beans, and you are on your way to a delicious dinner. Broil some parmesan or Gruyère on top to add even more flavor. You can always dice leftover breads for croutons as well. If you are looking for a way to transform mashed potatoes into soup, start with this recipe from Rachael Ray and then add other leftovers in any combination you like.
Hopefully, these ideas helped spark your creativity to get imaginative with those leftovers! Really, there is no limit to what you can do. Pasta bakes, pizzas, and inventive stir fries may be in your future. How do you use your Thanksgiving leftovers?
For those of us who are in a state of Thanksgiving panic, the last installment of A Denver Guide to Thanksgiving offers a simple and elegant solution to appetizers–and desserts–that requires very little time. Forget baking, frying, or hours of chopping and slicing for your holiday appetizers. Cheese Platters show off one of the world’s most delightful foods in pure form, and Janet Schaus of The Truffle Cheese Shop in Denver is here to save the day with her expert advice on pairings, presentation, and selection. Her tips will take you from Thanksgiving to Christmas to New Year’s Eve parties, since cheese platters make excellent additions to any of these festivities.
And if you have not yet been to The Truffle Cheese Shop, do all of your senses a favor and stop by. You will find cheeses from around the world in this European-style shop. Because they specialize in small-batch, artisan, and farmstead cheeses, The Truffle Cheese Shop offers a rare treat for foodies. They also have every element, from cured meats to baguettes (from French bakery Trompeau) to jams and imported biscuits, that you will need for your platter.
Composing The Perfect Platter
Variety is the spice of life, and it’s also the key to an impressive cheese platter, according to Schaus. “What we like to do is vary milk types. Cow, sheep, goat, and water buffalo are the main milk types, and we like to include at least three of those. Vary the texture, so you have something hard and crumbly, something kind of medium textured, and then something soft. Then we like to vary the flavor profiles so you have something that appeals to all palettes. So something soft and creamy that’s a little on the mild side, something that may be a washed rind that’s flavor forward, and then maybe a blue or an aged gouda–something that’s going to have a lot of flavor to it.” Schaus says to avoid hard cheeses that need to be sliced by guests, since that is difficult to manage with a plate or wineglass in hand.
What Else Should Go On A Platter?
Schaus explains, “As far as accompaniments to the cheese, meats are always a nice idea, any kind of charcuterie, salami, or speck or prosciutto. If you just want to keep it to cheese, we always like to use different kinds of fruit, and in the wintertime there is not a lot of fresh fruit that is really great. So to keep it more seasonal you can use chutney or jam, or apple or pear butter is amazing. These cheeses go so beautifully with fruits. The sweetness compliments the creaminess or the sharpness of the cheese. Nuts are wonderful. Honey is another really wonderful thing to pair with even the stronger cheeses. Of course olives or any kind of pickled products are also great for cheese plates.”
Cheese and wine are a natural pairing, but Schaus claims this relationship is not as important during large holiday meals. “You don’t worry too much about pairing it with wines when you do it for an hors d’oeuvre or as an addition to a dinner because people will be drinking so many different things and there are so many flavors going on in the whole dinner that you just want the cheese to be a part of that.”
How To Arrange Your Platter
When we think of the various sweet and savory elements on a cheese platter, such as salami, olives, pears, or grapes, it’s hard to know where to put them. Do we make separate platters for sweet and savory? Schaus advises, “As a personal preference, if I’m doing it for a dinner, I will keep it all on one. And I will keep the pickled products or the olives with the more savory cheeses, and with the more nutty cheeses, that’s where I’ll put the fruit or the honey. We use a lot of dried fruit when we do our platters: dried cranberries and cherries and pears. They just have a really nice kind of concentrated sweetness that goes well with cheese.”
Did you know that cheese is seasonal? Winter is the best time for aged alpine cheeses. The cheesemongers at The Truffle Cheese Shop are happy to give you their expert insight on such matters. As Schaus says, “Every cheese has a story.” Think seasonal for accompaniments too. “This time of year apples are really beautiful, and there are so many flavor profiles with apples, from granny smiths that tend to be a little sour to honeycrips that are super sweet.”
Cheese For Dessert
Schaus says that Americans are beginning to embrace the European tradition of cheese for dessert. If you have never tried it before, now is the time. It might just change the way you think about dessert. “It’s really lovely. You don’t really need a lot of cheese. You are not really looking for quantity as much as quality with dessert because you’ve already had a big meal. It’s just to get a taste of it. And at that point I like to keep the accompaniments on the cheese platter a little on the sweet side. One to three cheeses. Again you can vary the milk types and vary the textures.”
Shaus says not to fret about the actual platter that you use to serve your cheese. A plain glass plate is simple and beautiful, but really the sky is the limit. “Just a piece of marble or wood or put a piece of wax paper on your grandmothers old silver set works well,” she says.
Day After Thanksgiving
One of the reasons a cheese platter works so well for the holiday table is its versatility for later meals. Whether you use your gouda on turkey and cranberry sandwiches or shred some parmesan into a frittata, the results are delicious. Schaus adds, “Cheese for breakfast is wonderful. For anything that is left over, just toss it into pasta or risotto.”
The Most Important Part
Schaus claims that the most essential element of the perfect platter is one that might surprise you. “The biggest thing with cheese is how you store it. Wax paper or foil–not plastic–because cheese is a living, breathing thing. In Colorado it tends to dry out. Wrap it in wax paper or foil then put it in a separate container in your fridge.” Schaus uses a glass container, but says that plastic also works. And if all else fails, you can use the meat or produce drawer in your refrigerator because they are higher in humidity.
Click here to learn more about The Truffle Cheese Shop!
Also check out The Truffle Table (A Denver restaurant and sister business of The Truffle Cheese Shop)!