Not Home for the Holidays

Culture, France, Photography, Travel

The hubs and I have missed a lot of big family events since we first moved away from Arkansas, however, we’ve always done what we had to do to make it home for Christmas. 

This holiday season (2017) I felt a bit torn. In many ways I was my same ole jolly self, starting my Christmas playlist the day after Halloween Thanksgiving, watching Christmas movies on repeat, eating festive holiday treats, etc., but in others, I was slightly dreading my favorite day of December. 

Knowing, that for the first time ever, I wouldn’t be home for the holidays, I found myself a bit anxious over what’s otherwise a wonderful time of the year. Anticipating that I would need a good distraction on Christmas day,  I set out researching.alps hike - 1.jpgalps hike 2 - 1.jpgalps hike 3 - 1alps hike 4 - 1Alps - 38Alps - 43Alps - 54Alps - 34Alps - 18Alps - 36

Alps - 51Alps - 92Alps - 57Alps - 30Alps - 23A few years ago Jacob and I watched a Rick Steves’ Christmas special where Steves’ and his family spend Christmas day in one of the prettiest places we’ve ever been, Gimmelwald Switzerland, high up in the Swiss Alps. After finishing the special, in awe, we pledged to one day return and have a white Christmas in those lovely mountains. Little did we know then that that Christmas would come so soon.

Though it wasn’t the Swiss Alps where we spent our Christmas, i’d say the French Alps are sufficient for fulfilling that pledge, and they were just as pretty, if not even better, than the region of the Alps we explored a few summers ago. Alps - 41Alps - 35Alps - 26Alps - 59Alps - 27Alps - 2Alps - 52Alps - 15Alps - 17heidi alps 2 - 1.jpgWanting to have for the first time in my life a relaxing holiday, I got to work finding a place to stay where we could truly unwind. However, unfortunately, I quickly came to find that everyone else seemed to have the same idea. 

For a while it looked like we had two options: we could either stay in a small condo in a major ski town, or in an even smaller cabin in the foothills, likely away from the snow.

Wanting two things, well, really three, a fireplace, guaranteed snow, and seclusion, I persevered until the perfect option came about: Ma Cabane en Montagne, a lovely little traditional, eco-conscious log cabin located in the stunning Vanoise National Park. Alps - 8Alps - 65Alps - 61Alps - 62Alps - 73Alps - 77Alps - 66Alps - 68

heidi alps - 1.jpgAlps - 82Alps - 78Alps - 73Alps - 72Secluded, covered with a beautiful blanket of thick, white, sparkling snow, and containing a wood stove, Ma Cabane en Montagne was the perfect spot for us to spend our quiet holiday. The location was unbeatable, the cabin was cozy, and best of all, dinner (unfussy, yet delicious, traditional French Savoyarde dishes – think raclettes, fondue, sausages… basically good, hearty, and comforting mountain food) was included each night, taking any hard work off our hands, and allowing us more time to relax.

Though there were ski resorts nearby and plenty of Alpine activities available, we decided instead to take things as easy as possible, and really enjoy a low key Christmas break. Alps - 91Alps - 85Alps - 93Alps - 94Alps - 90Alps - 86Alps - 87Alps - 74Alps - 70Alps - 76Alps - 80Alps - 79Alps - 75Alps - 67We watched Christmas movies, read books, drank hot chocolate by the fire, went sledding, played with Heidi in the snow (who had never before seen such a thing, making the whole experience that much more fun), explored nearby villages, and on Christmas day, took a lovely hike through the mountains.

On Christmas Eve, the big night to celebrate here in France, we drank champagne and ate foie gras, steak, potatoes, chestnuts (literally roasted over an open fire), and cheese, and then fell asleep half an hour into Elf. On Christmas day, we slept in (a first for me!!), enjoyed a quiet breakfast, and then set off for our hike. We FaceTimed with family later that day, enjoyed dinner, and then fell asleep by 10. For the first time ever, it was a quiet, relaxing holiday, and really such a perfect way to spend the day.

Though I wouldn’t want to do it every year as we certainly missed family and friends, this peaceful way of celebrating was incredibly memorable, and such a nice change of pace. Here’s to more relaxing holidays in our future, and though a little bit late, a very happy new year for us all!


Back to the Basics: Homemade Whipped Cream and Pie Dough

Dessert, Food, Food Photography, Recipes

There is no dessert more classic at Thanksgiving than a pie, and no better topping for a pie than whipped cream. As many of us will soon be indulging in our favorite holiday desserts, I thought I would share a couple of recipes to help put your pies over the top.

It never fails to surprise me how many people can’t (or don’t…or won’t) make their own whipped cream. It’s one of the easiest recipes I’ve ever made and only requires ONE ingredient. It tastes much better than store bought whipped cream, and though I haven’t compared the prices, a container of heavy whipping cream is pretty cheap. If you can make a pie, I promise you, you can make homemade whipped cream.

While really, all that’s necessary is heavy whipping cream, it’s common to sprinkle in a little sugar to sweeten up the taste. Sometimes, I switch it up a bit and use maple syrup instead of sugar, or maybe add some vanilla or a splash of bourbon, but really, a classic sugar/cream whipped cream is hard to beat.

If you have a stand mixer, this is seriously the easiest recipe in the world. Just put your cream and sugar in your mixing bowl, turn your mixer on high, and in about two to three minutes, you’ll have yourself a glorious bowl of whipped cream. If you don’t have a stand mixer, a hand mixer works great as well. It might take a few minutes longer, and it’ll help if you freeze your bowl and beaters for about 15 minutes before you start, but that is still a pretty simple recipe if you ask me.

If you are whipping by hand, you rock! You deserve a big spoonful of cream (and maybe a shot of bourbon) once you are done. If you choose this route, you’ll certainly want to stick your bowl and beaters in the freezer for a few minutes before you start. It’ll help you out and cool you down while you work.


Homemade Whipped Cream

yields 1 1/2 – 2 cups whipped cream


2 tbsp sugar

1 c heavy whipping cream


Whisk together cream and sugar in a mixing bowl until soft peaks form.


Though slightly harder and a little more work, homemade pie dough is another simple recipe that every cook should know how to make. You have to plan a bit ahead on this one as your dough needs time to chill, but if truly in a hurry, a freezer usually helps to do the trick. Most recipes will ask you to chill your dough in the refrigerator for a minimum of one hour (I recommend this as well), but I’ve been in a cinch a time or two where chilling my dough in the freezer for 30 minutes worked.

Unlike whipped cream, there’s a bit of a deeper science to creating a great pie dough, so I will let the professionals walk you through this one. For galettes and tarts, I enjoy Bon Appétit’s Basic Tart Dough, and for flaky pies, I favor Smitten Kitchen’s All Butter, Really Flaky Pie Dough all the way. If you are into graham cracker crusts, ole Deb Perelman also has a great recipe for that. It’s my favorite for cheesecakes and pumpkin pies!

As you prepare your desserts this holiday season, I encourage you to give your own whipped cream and pie crust a try. Intimated by the dough? Start small with the cream. It’ll put your dish over the top and leave your guests hungry for more. If you feel a bit nervous about making your own pie dough, Christmas is still a month away. That leaves you plenty of time to practice!

Bon appétit and happy Thanksgiving!

Bourbon-Sea Salt Caramels

Dessert, Food, Food Photography, Recipes, Uncategorized

I first spotted this recipe about a month ago when my December issue of Bon Appetite came in the mail. As a sucker for anything cooked with bourbon, I immediately dog-eared the page and made plans to return to the recipe as soon as possible. I had never made homemade caramels before, but knew I had found a great place to start.

When I got an invitation for my dear friend’s third annual “Thirsty Santa” Christmas party, I knew right away what I would bring: Shauna Niequist’s goat cheese and bacon dates and these bourbon-sea salt caramels. We spent the night munching on festive treats and stealing one another’s booze–all in good fun as part of our game. I returned home with a full belly,  an empty date tray, and only a small handful of candy.

I modified the original recipe a bit, adding a bit more salt and an extra splash of bourbon. I often enjoy a salty contrast in sweet treats, and let’s be honest, who doesn’t love an extra slosh of bourbon?

A candy thermometer is essential as you want to be sure and reach that perfect “soft ball” stage, and when I say constantly whisk, I mean it. My arm was sore for a good two days. I think that maybe I’ve found my new favorite, holiday workout…

IMG_9560_3Screen shot 2013-12-18 at 6.24.39 PMIMG_9709

Bourbon-Sea Salt Caramels

Adapted from Bon Appetite magazine 

2 cups sugar

1/2 cup light corn syrup

14 oz can sweetened condensed milk

1/2 cup unsalted butter, cut into small pieces

3 tbsp bourbon

1/2 tsp kosher salt

sea salt

Cover an 8×8 baking pan with parchment paper. Lightly coat paper with nonstick cooking spray.

Bring sugar, corn syrup, and 1/4 cup water to a boil in a medium saucepan over medium-high heat, stirring to dissolve sugar. Cook until mixture turns a deep amber color. About 8-10 minutes.

Remove pan from heat and whisk in sweetened condensed milk and butter until smooth. Fit pan with candy thermometer and return to medium-low heat. Cook, whisking constantly, until thermometer registers 240 degrees. Remove from heat and whisk in bourbon and kosher salt. Pour into prepared pan and allow caramel to cool completely. Once cool, sprinkle caramel with sea salt and cut into small pieces. Wrap each piece individually in parchment paper.

Store in airtight container at room temperature. Recipe yields approximately 50 pieces.

Candied Citrus Peels

Dessert, Food, Food Photography, Recipes

Homemade food gifts have always been one of my favorite things to give (and receive) during the holiday season. My mom recently mailed me a special issue of Taste of Home magazine that solely focused on food gifts (she knows me all too well). After skimming through pages of masterfully crafted recipes, I began to see a common theme; It wasn’t actually the food so much that I was interested in, it was the presentation. You should all know by now that I am a sucker for gourmet food products. Pack it in a fancy box and tie a pretty bow on top, and I am sold! So when it came to deciding what to take as a hostesses gift for a trip last weekend, I had no trouble deciding what to bring.

After a bit of searching I stumbled across this article by Martha Stewart. After singling out a few items and determining how much time I could actually devote to cooking, I decided on this little gem of a recipe.


Perfectly balanced and delectably crunchy, my only regret is not making more!

Candied Citrus Peels

Adapted from Martha Stewart

1 grapefruit, 2 oranges, and 4 lemons (or citrus fruits of your choice)
4 cups sugar, plus more for rolling
4 cups water

Using a paring knife, make slits along the curve of the fruit from top to bottom, cutting through the peel, but not into the fruit itself. Gently remove the peel. Using your knife, remove excess pith from each slice. This step is important as leaving too much pith in tact will cause your peel to taste bitter.  Slice each piece lengthwise into ¼ to ½ inch-wide strips.

Place strips in a large saucepan and cover with cold water. Bring to a boil, drain, and repeat twice.

Meanwhile, bring water and sugar to a boil, stirring occasionally until sugar dissolves. Add strips to boiling syrup, reduce heat to medium-low, and simmer gently until strips are translucent, about one hour.

Remove from heat and let strips cool in syrup. (Strips in syrup will keep, covered and refrigerated, for up to three weeks.) Using a slotted spoon, transfer strips to a wire rack placed over foil. Allow excess syrup to drip off of strips before coating with sugar. Roll each strip in additional sugar until well coated.  Arranged in a single layer on a foil-covered cookie sheet and let dry for at least 30 minutes.

Once dry, store in a pretty box lined with parchment paper, or just keep them for yourself.  I wouldn’t blame you if you did. They should keep, covered, for up to two weeks, though I doubt they’ll last long enough for you to find out!

IMG_3159Wondering what to do with all of that left over syrup? Brush it on cakes, concoct a tasty beverage, or wow your friends by giving it as a gift.


What kind of homemade gifts are you making this holiday season?

It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas


Our halls are decked, the tree is trimmed, and it’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas around here.

Picking out a Christmas tree is one of my favorite holiday pastimes. Each year my dad, sister, and I would all head out  together in search for the perfect tree.  Once we’d find one that we could all agree upon, we’d load it in the back of my uncle’s old , red truck  and head home to do some decorating.  Once home, greeted by my teary-eyed mother, touched by our tradition, we’d  get straight to work. My dad would get the ladder and begin to hang the tree. Yes, you read that right. He would hang it. You’d never know that it was hanging though if I hadn’t of told you. Just trust me, it works. My dad would hang the tree, and then I would spend hours obsessing over each ornament until each one was just right. Meanwhile, my mom would be off transforming the rest of the house into something magical.

As much as i’ve always loved our real trees, it just didn’t seem very logical for us to put one up in our apartment. For one, real trees pose a fire threat. I don’t want to be responsible for burning down our building, which has been standing since the 1930s. And for two, as much as a I love the idea (and the smell) of a real tree, they truly are a mess. So, we turned to the ole artificial tree, which has a few problems of its own. Have I ever mentioned that our apartment severely lacks storage space? There’s hardly enough space for our things as it is, so what would we do with the tree after the season passes? I’m not positive, but I just don’t think that Jacob would let me keep it up all year long.

Not having a tree just wasn’t an option for me, so we opted for a little 4 footer that can easily be stored under our bed. Though small in size, it still warms my heart in a big way. Beyond the tree, i’ve been busy adding a few other touches to make our home a little more festive and warm this holiday season.


My first Christmas wreath. 

IMG_2966Little did I know when I received this as a gift last year, just how much it would mean to me this year. This lovely little plaque was given to me by someone very special, someone who sadly lost their battle to cancer this summer. So glad to have it as a sweet little reminder of this person. 

IMG_2987The stockings are hung by the chimney TV with care.

IMG_2929Homemade cinnamon ornaments and tree skirt. 

IMG_2885We opted for a holiday brew in lieu of our traditional hot cocoa. 


Self portrait? 

IMG_2918A cheerful banner to brighten up a gloomy day. 

IMG_2994Two mini Poinsettias waiting in the windowsill. Still deciding where to place these little guys. 

IMG_3064A fisherman nutcracker. Jacob just insisted! 

IMG_3039And a handful of these scattered about to make our home smell like winter cheer. 

Maple-Walnut Pie

Dessert, Food, Food Photography, Recipes

Well friends, as of last night I officially finished my month of pie. Tomorrow is a new month, and the Christmas season will officially begin. It’s time to move on from the flavors of the harvest and delight ourselves with all that winter has to offer.

I saved the Maple-Walnut pie for last for a couple of reasons. For one, the ingredients felt a little more winter appropriate, and for two, it sounded amazing. I thought I would save the best for last. Well, I am sad to say that this pie was my least favorite of the bunch. Not only was it an expensive one to make (have you seen the cost of walnuts and maple syrup lately?), but the flavor of this much anticipated pie was a serious letdown. Even topped with a big scoop of vanilla ice cream, I handed my plate off to the hubs. That doesn’t happen often when it comes to dessert…

The lemon in this recipe overpowered the taste of the maple, and the walnuts were just too much. I felt like I was eating spoonfuls of walnuts drizzled with lemon syrup. I even used 100% pure maple syrup, but somehow, that delectable maple flavor seemed to have disappeared.

Although a let down, maybe this pie could be redeemed with a few modifications. I’ve included my suggested changes in the recipe below.


Maple-Walnut Pie

Adapted from the Food Network 

1 disk dough for Basic Crust 
All-purpose flour, for dusting
6 tablespoons butter, melted
3 large eggs
3/4 cup packed light brown sugar
3/4 cup pure maple syrup
1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
1 teaspoon grated lemon peel
1 tablespoon flour
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 1/4 cups chopped walnuts, toasted
Roll out the dough into a 12-inch round on a lightly floured surface. Ease into a 9-inch pie plate; fold the overhang under itself and crimp. Chill 30 minutes.

Place a baking sheet on the lowest oven rack and preheat to 425 degrees  for 30 minutes. Meanwhile, make the filling: Whisk all of the remaining ingredients except the walnuts in a bowl.

Spread the walnuts in the crust and pour in the filling. Place the pie on the hot baking sheet and lower the oven temperature to 325 degrees . Bake until the crust is golden and the filling is set, 45 to 55 minutes. (Cover the edges with foil if they brown too quickly.) Cool on a rack.

That’s all the pie that I have for now! Until next time…