A beautiful life….

I would like to introduce Lydia Hoke.  Lydia is one of my dearest friends and my first deep friendship outside of my sisters.  She has touched my life profoundly and will always inspire the way I live, simply by knowing her, and observing how she lives out her life. When I think of Lydia, I think of a life lived beautifully.  Beauty simply is part of her – her home, her child, her food…everything.  And it all is so naturally done.  Here is a little glimpse of a beautiful life in her own words….

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I am one of those people who loves spending the day in the kitchen preparing a meal for guests or even just my own family. It is my purpose.  Putting a dinner together is also more than just preparing a meal.  I enjoy setting the table, arranging a centerpiece, lighting candles, or putting together a playlist.  My sister used to say when we were preparing for a special event “that it’s all in the details.”  This is so true, even when it comes to cleaning your house before your guests arrive.  No one wants to come into a dirty house, it is uncomfortable and can make you feel (as a guest) that you are inconveniencing them by being there.  Hospitality takes work.  It isn’t always easy to find the time, but it is a fulfilling gift to you and your guest.  Something my husband tries to remind me of is, that even if our house isn’t the way I wish it looked, we are not having people over to “show-off”  and that we want them to feel comfortable and welcome.

For everything there is a season and it is a good thing to remember when you feel sleep-deprived and weary at caring for your family and keeping your house clean not to mention showing hospitality!   Not too long a go, I had a newborn, and then a really clingy baby and I am just now starting to feel like I can relax and cook and do projects when he is around.  In fact, he loves to help and by letting him, he is learning to be a servant.  Nap-time used to be the only time I ever got things done and I used to run myself  ragged just trying to get everything done before he woke up.  I had to learn to lower my expectations (which were ridiculous) when we were at that place in our lives.  I still kept a clean house and made meals and had people over.  I just didn’t make Julia Child’s Braised Beef (which, when you have the time is worth it!) or anything too time-intensive and didn’t care if I hadn’t done my hair that day.  The thing is, I have always wanted a child in my life and if that meant less sleep, more messes to clean, and simpler meals for a time, that was just fine- I hope I can go through it all over again soon!  Oh, and never underestimate the powers of caffeine.  Even if it doesn’t seem to give you that energy boost you so desperately need, taking the time to make a nice cup of coffee or tea always gave me a great excuse to sit down and enjoy it.  In fact, I didn’t become a daily coffee-drinker until I had my son, in the morning it was my reward for getting up and my iced-coffee in the afternoons became a favorite ritual especially when I got to share it with a friend.

Here is what I do for a homemade latte:  First, I use my Bialetti stove-top espresso maker.  Before my dear friend gave  this little gem to me I used to brew really really strong coffee  in my french press.  This tastes great, but if you are like me and crave the taste of your local coffee shop’s latte but realize just how much your habit is starting to affect your budget you can try this.   The espresso maker makes espresso so, when you add your milk or half and half it doesn’t water it down like when you add it to brewed coffee.  I don’t add any sweetener, just a good bit of milk and a splash of  half and half or cream and coffee ice cubes (reserve leftover coffee in ice cube trays and freeze for your next drink, these guys won’t water down your drink!)   If you are feeling particularly indulgent a bit of sweetened whipped cream will hit the spot.  And don’t forget the straw-it makes the drink a little more official if not more fun.  Cheers!

Another thing I learned from my mom was to have a “go-to” meal or dish for those times that you unexpectedly need one.  Mine, is a chocolate tart I came across when I was first married in a Gourmet magazine.  I love it because I nearly always have the ingredients on hand and even though I make it quite frequently I never get over how incredibly delicious it is!

Warm Mocha Tart

Serves 8-10

For the Crust:

Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees.   In a mixing bowl stir together 1 1/2 cups flour, 1/4 cup sugar, and a 1/2 tsp. salt.  Melt 12 Tbs. butter, then add 1 tsp. vanilla and stir into flour mixture.  Press into 10-inch tart pan.  Place in oven and bake until light golden, about 20 minutes.  Turn oven off.

Filling:

Meanwhile in a medium saucepan combine 1 cup heavy cream, 3 tbs. butter, 1/2 cup of unsweetened cocoa powder, 1/2 cup of sugar, and 1 tsp. ground coffee.  Bring to a simmer and remove from heat.  Right before the tart crust is done stir in a 1 beaten egg and 1 tsp. vanilla.  Pour through a strainer to remove any lumps and pour filling into tart crust.  Place in oven (that is turned off but still warm) and bake until tart is set.  It should jiggle slightly when moved, about 5 minutes.  Serve warm or at room temperature with whipped cream or vanilla ice cream.  Bon Appetit!

Want to hear more from Lydia and her sisters?  Check out their blog ginger + pearl or their shop on Etsy.

Tip: Sleeping Outside

Wow…something so simple as sleeping outside can truly be amazing.  I don’t mean sleeping in a tent…I mean sleeping under the stars.  To fall asleep gazing up at the stars and listening to the gentle sounds of night.  There is nothing like it.  Even waking up during the night becomes a treat as you are again reminded of the immense beauty of God’s creation and the night’s sky brimming with little lights.  Wonderful is the perfect word…to be filled with wonder.

Tips for a successful night:

  1. Check the weather.  It seems so obvious, but I have been awakened numerous times by the fall of rain…
  2. Sleep on a deck and not the ground (less bugs that way).
  3. Bring out a mattress and lots of cozy blankets.  There is no need to totally rough it unless you want to be extra adventurous.  Make it feel luxurious.  It is worth the extra effort of dragging everything outside.  (And one more little tip…protect your mattress by putting a sheet or something underneath it.)
  4. Experiences in life are always better shared.  So share it with your spouse, your kids, your siblings, your dog…

…But for those of you who do not want to sleep outside, a great alternative is putting glow in the dark star stickers on your ceiling.  Make sure to get the flat ones that are actually stickers and not plastic.  They blend in during the day but glow at night.  When we were younger, my sister covered her ceiling with them.  I still LOVE when I sleep in her old room and am lolled asleep by the silent yet peaceful stars above.

Hope you enjoy!….Virginia

The pull of the outside…

There is something about eating outside that makes a meal more enjoyable and more complete.  I don’t know what it is…maybe the fresh air that awakens an appetite or maybe it is being closer to the actual source of the food I am eating.  Whatever it is, eating outside is a treat that I so often forget about in the rush of life.  But when I stop and remember to venture outside to eat, I am struck by the beauty and question why every meal is not enjoyed outside.

Recently my sisters, mother, and I went to the beach for a bit and enjoyed meals on our deck as the sun set and the moon rose in the sky.  The sound of the waves crashing gently on the beach and the laughter of those most beloved to me was soothing to the soul.  We had to work with what we was at hand…which is typically not much in a rental…but we did the best we could to set the table and enjoy a delicious meal together outside enjoying the splendor of our natural setting.

We scavanged in and around the house to find anything that could be used as a centerpiece and were delighted to find these huge shells.  We just went with the beach theme…why fight it when we were in fact at a beach.  A large pot worked for an ice bucket to keep the wine and perrier chilling.  Two bushes out front provided the napkin rings and the centerpiece.  An old perrier bottle worked as a vase.  Easy and it took 10 minutes to find and set.

Tip: Make your own guest soap

Making your own guest soap is super easy.  Don’t worry it does not require actually making soap (although you can if you want).  All you need is a bar of good soft soap.  We used 80 Acres’ Verde Olive Oil Soap.  It is best if you start with soap that is a square or rectangle with actual corners and not rounded edges.

Now here is the easy part.  All you do is cut the soap evenly into pieces.  We cut it into 8 pieces.  It really depends on the size of soap you start with, just make sure that the pieces will be a decent size.  Don’t worry if they are not perfect…it just adds to the charm of the soap.  We found a cute little jar at a thrift store to store the soap in and placed it on an old silver tray.  And you are done!

And if you don’t want to make your own you can always use Lucia’s Guest Soaps…equally delightful!