Pandemic, Hygge Dinner Therapy

Here we are. In the midst of another rise of the never-ending Covid19 pandemic cases. As you know, if you follow my instagram, I have gone through many ups and downs when it comes to being able to find joy during these unpredictable and tiring times. My lack of being able to remain “present” and finding a sense of purpose in the recent months has reached new levels of unattainability. And, lately, I find myself leaping from idea to idea; grasping at straws trying to keep my mind busy with anything and everything that I can fit into my schedule. Painting my bathroom, trips to isolated book stores far away, amusing myself with imagining and planning journeys to the hippie towns across America, random acts of kindness to friends and strangers, painting a ridiculously hard (and still incomplete) paint by numbers… you name it, it’s probably floated across my mind.

The point is, we all want to feel a little bit of completeness during a time when so little is certain. We want to feel whole where there are voids. And if we can find anything heartwarming, we’ll latch onto it. And what warms the heart more than having a meal with friends and family? Not much.

Unfortunately, at this time, getting together with other humans is discouraged because, well… COVID. Yes, we know it travels, it’s extremely contagious, and you have to move heaven and earth to get people to wear masks… So, dinner parties? Not really much of an option, unless you want to spend time with 15 people and have 72% change of contracting the virus. Or so said an article I read online today. Yet, I have/had been dying to just GATHER. Like, we used to. And it’s brought a number of tears to flow throughout the year, knowing that it’s just not possible. So, I decided to take matters in my own hands.

In the recent years, I’ve developed this attitude like ‘I’m not gonna wait around on other people. If I want to do something, I’m going to. Even if I have to do it alone.” Apparently, dinner parties are included. So, I informed my hubby that I was going to do a faux dinner party, just because and for my family. Decor and all. Just for some kind of therapy.

Now, at first, that was going to include lanterns and 150 paper cranes hanging from the ceiling. I was THIS close to ordering a massive amount of twinkle lights from Amazon and stringing them up. Nearly bought new dishes… Until, I realized that I might be getting a tad carried away.  I mean, we are legitimately just trying to get by in these awkward, socially distant times. So, instead, I resigned to save my really amped up ideas for when I can fill my home with more people I love. And, decided my main objective would be to just set up a budget friendly, cozy meal that would feel intimate and a little more rustic than say handmade origami ornaments at each place setting. Are you sensing a theme yet?

I’ve been craving Asian food for weeks and, specifically, missing a restaurant from our home in NC. My fave dish is served there and it’s flawless, along with their coconut cake for dessert. So I looked up some recipes on pinterest for what I wanted and found an overabundance of options. I decided to make the main course and dessert from scratch and accompany it with pre-prepped appetizers and sides. Yeah, I was going a real restaurant style dining here, and wrote up the menu on my dining room chalkboard a week in advance so I’d have something to look forward to. You could, of course, do this week any type of food.

Now let’s talk decor and place settings. I’d like to talk about this in case you are in a little bit of a slump and want to do something simple like this in order to bring yourself and family a little bit of cheer. I’ll go through what I threw together and what alternatives there are out there.

The tablescape, you’ll notice, was rather uncomplicated. I didn’t have time to get flowers or anything and my table is SO long that it’s very hard to find an inexpensive table runner or table cloth to cover it. So, I started thinking about how some restaurants cover their tables with butcher paper and thought, “HELLO, KID FRIENDLY & easy cleanup!” But, rolls of butcher paper were like 15 dollars! This craft paper, gift wrapping paper was $1 a roll at Dollar Tree. I could’ve used the underside if I had wanted it plain, but I really loved the fun polkadot playfulness it gave the table. They also have plain kraft paper available for just under $2 a roll at Dollar General.

I already owned the candle lanterns and candles, which I got from walmart at the beginning of fall from Walmart. I’m linking the candles (which smell divine!) HERE. I haven’t seen the the lanterns since, in-store or online, so HERE are some similar ones. And you could probably also look at places like Hobby Lobby or Old Time Pottery for something similar and inexpensive. As well as the candles.

I simply bought reindeer moss for $1 a bag from Dollar Tree and filled the bottom of my lantern with it, around the candle, for a more woodsy and homey look. And to avoid fingerprints on the glass, I maneuvered it around with a spatula.

I got my snowy trees on a log, tabletop decor from Walmart for like $6, but I can’t find it on their website anywhere. If you can’t find anything in your area similar, you could probably craft it pretty easily with supplies from a dollar store. Or you could purchase a set like THIS from Walmart (below) or THESE glittery gems from Target.

On either side of the trees, I places cutting boards to place appetizers on and flanked them on one side with a beaded garland I got from Amazon earlier this year. I also used four, mercury glass votive holders I found at Dollar General for $1 a piece on each corner. They are adorable and I’ll definitely be reusing them again and again. I found a similar set of 12 on Amazon HERE.

Now, let’s talk about dishes! Mine are by Magnolia (Hearth & Hand) from Target and I got them a little over a year ago as part of their fall collection. They are no longer available, but if you are in the market for new dishes, I strongly suggest checking out what they do have in stock. Such as the beautiful, red rimmed dishes they just came out with!

I used the mixed matched silverware that I already own (I’m due for a new set) and wrapped it with $1 white napkins from Dollar General & found red burlap ribbon on sale to tie it up with. Next time, I may go ahead and spring for some more expensive linen napkins like the ones I’ve found online (below). And if you are having a little fancier of an event with more extended family…etc, it would definitely be a nice touch. You could even do matching ones with your dishes like the photo above.

There are also plenty of nice biodegradable options online. Like these palm leaf plates! Which are a great, more natural, primitive choice.

That’s about it. I would’ve done placemats like these had I thought about it beforehand, so that’s also an option. I also, ordered chopsticks because of the nature of food, that only set me back $6.99. Plus, everyone loves chopsticks! Twinkle lights also came into play all over the room where I could hide the LED battery pack HAHA! Spent $5 on 5 packs of those at the dollar store and they were a nice addition to the cozy, hygge factor. And the candlesticks on the mantel + burning wood stove in my dining room didn’t hurt anything either.

Overall, I spent approximately $28 (not counting all the groceries for dinner) and repurposed a lot of things I already owned. I hope this gave you a lot of ideas of how you can easily create a comfortable, spruced up space for you and your loved ones to enjoy a special dinner despite everything going on in the world right now. You don’t have to have a lot of money to enjoy a nice, memorable evening together- even if you’ve already spent months in the same house. Take the time out to make your life extraordinary!

Blackberry Ginger Cake w/ Peach Apricot Filling + Barely There Cream Cheese Icing

Where do I even start with this cake? It’s pure magic. It’s perfect for any occasion. And, if possible, it’s even better the second day.

I developed this recipe on a whim, in the middle of the night (no surprise) and probably annoyed the crap out of my husband by constantly asking, “Does this sound good? Do you think this goes together?” I wanted so badly to have some originality to the flavor combo, but also have it taste cohesive.

I saw a cake on Pinterest that was honestly the inspiration for the whole process. It was no only pretty, but it melded together incredible flavors. It inspired me to do the same, but with my own imaginative blend. I tend to like making things multidimensional because I like the challenge of it.

Since COVID, I have seen people turn into serial bakers. But, I had managed to avoid it, for the most part… until I made this cake. I bake when I’m stressed, and the longer this pandemic lasts, the harder it is to resist making anything that pops into my head. It’s so satisfying to see creations come to life.

My whole family, kids included, ranted about how great this was! I have to admit, even though my kids aren’t picky eaters, I wasn’t sure this would be their taste. In hindsight, I think this is probably a very generally liked mixture of ingredients.

We ate on this for days and I swear it got better with time! It has a nice, warm gingery taste but, with a bit of depth from the blackberry. The peach and apricot give the cake a nice punchiness without being tart. And, the cream cheese icing- reminiscent of carrot cake- is to die for. No one thing overpowers the other. They all just work together to create something delicious!

While I initially made this in late spring, when all the fruity ingredients could be found fresh locally, you could use canned fruit for this as well. Or, even frozen. However, keep in mind the water content in thawed frozen fruit will be higher so you may end up with a runnier filling; you may have to add a thickening agent, such as xanthan gum or gelatin.

I hope, if you make this, you enjoy it as much as we do! And if you care to share, tag me on social media @lone_birch so I can see your version!

INGREDIENTS:

CAKE:

10 tbsp butter

3 large eggs

2/3 cup granulated sugar

1/3 cup + 1.5 tbsp brown sugar, firmly packed

1/4 tsp vanilla

1 1/4 cup all purpose flour

2 tsp backing powder

1.5 tsp baking soda

1/4 tsp salt

1 tsp ground cinnamon

1 tbsp ground ginger

1/4 tsp ground cloves

1/4 cup finely grated, fresh ginger

1 1/4 cup pureed (strained) blackberries

2 tbsp lemon juice

FILLING:

1/3 cup pureed peaches

1/3 cup pureed apricot

FROSTING:

10 tbsp butter (softened)

12 tbsp room temperature cream cheese

1 cup powdered sugar

1/4 tsp vanilla

CARAMELIZED APRICOTS:

8 ripe apricots

1/2 cup honey

INSTRUCTIONS:

CAKE:

  1. Heat oven to 350° F (170° C).
  2. Butter two 6-inch (15 cm) cake pans.
  3. 4. Beat eggs and sugars until fluffy and lighter in color and texture, about 3 minutes. Add melted butter and vanilla and beat until combined.
  4. Mix flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt and cinnamon in a bowl, then stir into the batter until just smooth.
  5. Peel and grate the ginger. Put the blackberries in a blender or food processor and process until smooth. Strained through a fine mesh strainer.
  6. Add grated ginger and all of the blackberry puree to the batter and stir until combined. Batter will look bluish/gray. Divide batter between the two cake pans.
  7. Bake for about 40-43 minutes, or until a cake tester comes out clean.
  8. Leave to cool in the pans for 20 minutes, then turn out onto a wire rack to cool completely.

FILLING:

  1. Put both the apricots and peaches together in a blender or food processor and process until smooth.
  2. Set aside in the refrigerator until time for cake assembly.

CREAM CHEESE ICING:

1. Beat butter until pale and fluffy. Add cream cheese, powdered sugar and vanilla and beat until just smooth.
2. Put the bowl in the fridge until time for cake assembly.

ASSEMBLY:

1. Cut both cake layers in half with a serrated knife so you end up with four cake layers.
2. Put the first cake layer on a cake board or directly onto a plate or cake stand. Spread a layer of frosting on the first layer, then spread a layer of the peach/apricot puree over. Repeat this until you’ve used up all layers.
3. Spread a thin layer of frosting all over the cake and put in the fridge while you prepare the topping.

CARAMELIZED APRICOTS:

  1. Preheat the broiler.
  2. Arrange the apricot halves, sut side up, on a rimmed baking sheet.
  3. Spoon 1/2 tbsp honey onto each apricot half. Brush with melted butter, if desired.
  4. Broil the apricots for 3-4 minutes, until bubbling and caramelized.
  5. Place around the cake as decoration and/or serve on the side of each slice. Vanilla ice cream optional.

Spruce Up with Amazon Home

A curated home is something a lot of us desire. It’s made to look easy in glossy magazines and on home decorating shows. But, what’s often not shared or focused on is the amount of money it generally takes to afford the appearance of a professionally designed home.

While I don’t live in a fancy house and I don’t have an unlimited budget, I do have expensive taste. My husband can attest, especially after many impulse purchases he found out about later… Oops!

That being said, my style, particularly as I’ve gotten older, has heavily gravitated towards all things bohemian farmhouse. Think, Stevie Knicks meets Joanna Gaines. Patterns and colors merge with clean black and white. When you throw in hints of mid century and my husband’s more traditional vibe, we truly have an eclectic taste! And it has taken time to find ways to make all of that mesh and look cohesive in our 1940’s Cape Cod style home. Of course, as usual with an older home that needs updating, we are not past the “work in progress” point yet.

Honestly, it’s probably a good thing I have my hubs to reign me in during the design decisions, or everything would probably end up like this…

Picture courtesy of Pinterest

…and yes, I would feed cows in that outfit. HAHA! And don’t ya think this vibe would go great with the Highland portrait I have in my dining room? Just kidding! Or am I?

In all seriousness, though, as if all of the animals and outside projects weren’t enough this summer… we decided to tack on a few indoor spruce ups as well. It began with things like finishing paint in the kids’ bedrooms and, somehow, we ended up in the area of ripping out our bedroom wall and installing a door, connecting it to an outside porch, building a swing, and screening it all in! Oy vey!

While my parents were in town, (as referenced in a previous post) Jon and my dad worked vigorously on the door and porch aspect of the plan. Maybe, one day, I’ll do a little home tour of sorts but, for now, I will just show you how far they got…

Unfortunately, since lumber is in high demand for contractors in this area right now, we weren’t able to get all of the boards needed to finish out the porch. We have a friend who works at Home Depot and promised to text us when they come back in stock! Until then, we are planning how we will finish out the inside, and I will share pics once it is done. I think it’ll be super cute.

Before all this work was done, like an idiot, I went ahead and painted my bedroom. I guess I was on some sort of manic spree and couldn’t be stopped. Nevertheless, one of my lovely walls got completely destroyed right when I thought I had everything looking the way I wanted. (Minus, the little detail of the wallpaper still not being done… I swear I’ll get around to it one of these days.)

Side note: Like a couple of other areas in our home, the color used in our master is called Silos White by Magnolia. I had previously ordered a sample of this color from Magnolia, had Home Depot color match it, and painted my youngest daughter’s nursery in it. Now that we are living in Ohio and my daughters share a room upstairs, I stole a little design style from my original game plan for her room. I’ve included a photo below, and you can see her entire room on HERE on Project Nursery and get a better idea of where I’m coming from. (Wallpaper used here will also be what goes in our room.)

Tulip’s finished nursery before she was born.

Anyway… the point of today’s post (finally getting there guys) is that I have gotten some really affordable small items from Amazon that I felt were very stylish, yet affordable. Nothing crazy; just a few things that gave it a more “lived in” feel. Because, being honest with you, our dressers have either been bare or covered with a combo of clothes, random screws and measuring tapes, decor items that never got hung up/that we didn’t want anymore. It was time to get a little more streamlined and attractive in there.

Like, I said before, I will share photos of the entire room once it’s completed. For now, I’m gonna share a brief list of recent purchases I love and link a few from the past; just finishing touches really. I also just wanna preface this by saying that Amazon home decor is my go-to when I see pieces that I love but can’t afford or I don’t can’t find what I’m looking for anywhere else.

  1. RISEON Plant Hanger

I have gotten other plant holders from Amazon. In the past when I needed something quick, because I normally buy plants without thinking where I’m going to put them first, I went online immediately and had something cute in a couple days. Being a plant mama, like a lot of you, I always want to get the perfect home for specific plants.

I own this cool geometric one, this cute mid-century planter, and these macrame hangers are great too– I have ivory and black. But, I think this awesome, black metal one by RISEON is my fave.

It’s very lightweight, but sturdy. It fits my new blue star fern perfectly, and it gives a nice pop of character in a rather boring corner near my closet. It’s not huge or overkill; just a very simple statement for a small, otherwise meaningless, area of your home. And now, it looks like a plant has always been hanging right in front of the window/closet corner in my room! Also, it comes in an oval shape as well as a gold finish so, OPTIONS!

2. Nearly Natural Dracaena Decorative Silk Plant- 48 inch

So, while I’m on the subject of plants… I am a FIRM believer that, if you can, and you love plants, you should have as many real ones as possible. It’s something that I feel like you will never grow to regret (no pun intended). However, fake plants have come a LONG way and people my age are now getting a little obsessed with them. Read more about that via Refinery29.

I chose to go the route of mixing real and fake plants in my room because (even with a new, huge door and two windows) the lighting is funky and that end of the house faces North, which is typically best for climbing plants, ferns (which I mentioned I have, above), and various, low growing/flowering plants. So, in places like the corner by my dresser, a non-artificial plant would do poorly.

Problem solved, by Nearly Natural via Amazon! I was extremely skeptical about having a silk plant, but the reviews were so good on this four-foot beauty that I decided to give it a try and… I’m SO glad I did! It’s perfect and no one would ever know it’s not real, unless I brought it up. It’s so detailed that it even has “new shoots” coming out of it! I bought this belly basket for it to live in and it’s a match made in heaven.

3. Afloral Set of 3 Multi Matte Glazed Bud Vases

I probably saved these vases on my wishlist and then deleted them three times. But, I don’t know why, because they are absolutely the right ones for my room. But, I searched and searched- scrolling past them- and looking for some unknown idea. In, the end I decided on these because A) they don’t have a glossy finish and B) they match the tones in my bedroom rug perfectly.

Turns out, my hesitation was for nothing and I would legit recommend these to EVERYONE. They’re gorgeous with the perfect amount of boho flair. But, they don’t look a bit out of place sitting on my very mid-century, second-hand dresser. The earthy tones are beautiful and the varying heights make it far more visually pleasing than say, one large vase, which I had considered instead.

This trio is also the perfect size for a small, accent flower or green stem. In one of these photos you’ll see that I currently have baby blue eucalyptus in mine. They are fairly lightweight, but not so much that I question the quality. And a whole set of stoneware vases for under $40 is a steal!

I’m also loving this large and small face floral vases by Afloral.

4. Vosarea Rattan Storage Basket

I got this adorable little rattan basket (more like a box) on a whim when I realized that for months I have been skimping on using my essential oils because they have been in a moving box, shoved under my side of the bed. I’ve only really reached for them when I was really feeling desperate. But, when I started rearranging my room and found a better spot for my diffuser, I realized that I needed to get a better storage option so that I could keep my oils more accessible.

This has fit them all with room to spare and is quite handsome looking, sitting out in the room. I’m actually considering getting a few more of them for a large shelf of cubbies in my room which may need further organization depending on what things end up needing to be hoarded over there. Or possible even my bathroom since this is described as a makeup organizer and I own enough makeup for like seven people. Haha!

Either way this is a durable little basket as far as I can tell and I love that it could be used with all types of decor from bohemian to coastal to farmhouse to minimalist. Run and get this if you need stashing options!

5. Primitives by Kathy Wall Hanging

First of all, this is described as “Gypsy Home Decor”. If that phrase alone hasn’t sold it to you, I don’t know how! I have three wall hangings from Primitives by Kathy via Amazon and there is no stopping me now!

I currently also own:
This one for my living room- Woven Wall Hanging, Pink and Grey

This one from my daughter’s bathroom & now needs a new home- Cotton and Metal Woven Wall Hanging

The designs and quality that Kathy’s company puts out there, accompanied with the affordability of product, makes me stand by the goods that are created by Primitives. This particular hanging is a nice pop of color and texture on the wall when you walk into our room. (I fudged the pic by moving furniture and accessories around for visual interest lol. But, honestly, it looks so good on it’s own!)

BONUS

I have gotten TONS of pillow covers in the time span of my marriage and decorating our homes. My husband is probably appalled by the amount. I learned early on though, that getting them from Amazon is an inexpensive and smart decision. My kids are SO hard on throw pillows in the living room and, even ones in other rooms, I like to have the ability to take them off and wash them. While we were giving our porch a little bit of a cleaning this summer I realized that our seating could look a bit more cozy.

(Yeah, I know this doesn’t have anything to do with my bedroom…) We have a great second hand bench, and hubby found a $10 seat cushion for it! I got some awesome pillows at Marshall’s, too. But, our rocking chairs were looking left out. So I got these embroidered pillow covers from Amazon and I am THRILLED with how amazing they look!

Truthfully, they are even better in person! I was looking at similar ones on another site that were $60 per pillow! These covers + the inserts only cost me about half that! Now, technically, they aren’t “outdoor” fabric so I try to keep them under the porch roof or inside a trunk out there whenever it’s gonna be a rainy day/at night.

I wasn’t home the other day and they caught in a rainstorm. But, I tossed them in the dryer and everything was a-ok! Check out this brand if you’re looking for some funky fresh ideas for a big bang when it comes to your exterior [or interior] design.

That’s it from me today! Hoping you guys had an amazing weekend! Let me know if you did anything fun 🙂