Friday, December 27, 2013

Candied Christmas Crafts

A highlight of the holiday season for the girls and me was having our sweet friends Stacey, Emma and Lizzy Brown come up for a candy-themed Christmas tea party. I will share our tablescape and easy menu in my next post, but before we sit down for afternoon tea, we have some crafting to do.


My daughters and Stacy's share a love of creative projects, so making glittered ornaments and bracelets was a great way to make some sweet memories together.


I decorated the sitting room for tea, but our kitchen table was set for play.


I provided two clear ornaments for each girl to paint with acrylic craft paints -- one to keep and one to give to her friend. The girls painted ornaments when the Browns arrived so the paint could dry during our visit.


Then at the close of the afternoon, the girls painted over their ornaments with ModPodge and covered them in fine glitter. They turned out so pretty! The younger girls coated their whole ornaments with sparkles, but Emma Brown and Mary Ashley were quite creative in glittering their baubles. The four ornaments we kept will look so sweet on our pastel playroom Christmas tree!


After we sat down to tea, the girls peeked into this candy dish to choose pretty beads for making bracelets.


These shimmering beads from Michaels looked like candies to me. We strung beads on ribbon for a simple token of friendship. Most of the girls made bracelets, but my Emma chose to make a necklace.


We bonded with the Browns when the girls were in preschool, and we are so thankful that our friendship has grown stronger through the years.


It's no secret; best girlfriends are among our most precious gifts!

"Our hearts grow tender with childhood memories and love of kindred, and we are better throughout the year for having, in spirit, become a child again at Christmas-time." ~ Laura Ingalls Wilder

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Merry Kissmas!

"Beloved, if God so loved us, we ought also to love one another" (1 John 4:11).

Merry Christmas from the Lester Family!

Monday, December 23, 2013

Musical Notes

"Be merry all, be merry all,
With holly dress the festive hall;
Prepare the song, the feast, the ball,
To welcome merry Christmas."
~ William Robert Spencer
We celebrated sixth-grader Christian's first concert with lunch at our house before the show.

Joe's parents joined us for the day, and it was exciting to gather around the table for such a festive occasion.


My mother's Pink Willow added charm to our tablescape.


We kept the menu simple and added a few musical notes to enhance the theme of the day.


To commemorate Christian's first saxophone performance, I wanted to give him a little memento of the day.


This box from Michaels held a little surprise.


I found this sweet little saxophone ornament on Ebay.


Christian was so pleased to have Nana and Pop in attendance at his first concert.


And we were all so proud of how far he has come in learning to play since picking up the instrument for the first time in August. I hope we have a new Christmas tradition!

I heard the bells on Christmas Day
Their old, familiar carols play,
And wild and sweet
The words repeat
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!
~ Henry Wadsworth Longfellow


Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Woodwinds & the Willow

"I will honor Christmas in my heart, and try to keep it all the year." ~ Charles Dickens

Sunday afternoon we celebrated 12-year-old Christian's first band concert with lunch at our house before the big event.

This occasion seemed the perfect opportunity to use my late mother's Pink Willow china. I inherited her collection when the house she and my father shared recently sold. Mother loved music, so I think she would smile knowing we incorporated her dinnerware into our celebration.

Mother displayed her collection in a china cabinet, but I don't recall her using it for family dinners. I was so surprised to discover that she had 18 place settings! I was delighted to think about all the entertaining possibilities for this lovely transferware pattern.

We used Pink Willow during our lunch, and throughout the holidays I am enjoying the classic vignette this tea set provides.

Stay tuned for a few musical notes from our party. 

"What is Christmas? It is tenderness for the past, courage for the present, hope for the future. It is a fervent wish that every cup may overflow with blessings rich and eternal, and that every path may lead to peace." ~ Agnes M. Pahro

Monday, December 16, 2013

Holiday Notes

We rang in the holiday season yesterday with Christian's beginner band concert. What a lovely way to celebrate Christmas! Joe's parents joined us for the event, so I will be sharing photos from our visit in upcoming posts. This teacup of roses is just a little preview of the notes to come this week, so stop in again soon!
"Music expresses feeling and thought, without language; it was below and before speech, and it is above and beyond all words." ~ Robert G. Ingersoll

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Merry Merry

"It is Christmas in the heart that puts Christmas in the air." ~ W.T. Ellis

We took Christmas pictures over the weekend, and although I won't reveal the winning photos until Christmas Day, I had to at least give you a little peek. I still don't have a working computer, but thanks to two borrowed laptops I can let you see how the children are doing.

Our new home in Birmingham is near Oak Mountain State Park, so we ventured out Sunday afternoon. With opportunities for hiking, biking and boating, this looks like a great park to explore. I hope to plan a picnic there soon.

I am really proud of how well the children are doing in their new schools. The older three have jumped right in and are excelling academically and socially. Surprisingly to me, my little Emma has been the slowest to warm to our new home. She is doing more cartwheels every day, though -- a sure sign that the bubbly girl we know and love is on her way back. (Chevron dresses and Mary Ashley's polka dot ribbon from The Shoppes of My Kids Attic; boots from Rack Room Shoes; and Emma's headband from Little Bit Designs.)

Mary Ashley asked to have her picture taken with Joe. She has an empty frame in her room, and she insists that space is reserved for her daddy.

I think Daddy has a special place in his heart reserved for Mary Ashley, don't you?

He certainly has my heart.

My sweet girls.

My boys were not eager to pose, so I will leave you with this final favorite shot of all four. I hope your Christmas season is off to a great start and look forward to sharing more memories through the holidays!

"Our hearts grow tender with childhood memories and love of kindred, and we are better throughout the year for having, in spirit, become a child again at Christmas-time." ~ Laura Ingalls Wilder

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Happy Thanksgiving!

Happy Thanksgiving 2013!
With Love from the Lester Family

Clipart from the Graphics Fairy. Used with permission.

Monday, November 25, 2013

Whittard of Chelsea Tea Giveaway

"The cup of tea on arrival at a country house is a thing which, as a rule, I particularly enjoy. I like the crackling logs, the shaded lights, the scent of buttered toast, the general atmosphere of leisured coziness." ~ P.G. Wodehouse

British tea company Whittard of Chelsea recently sent me samples of two of their favorite loose-leaf teas. Passionate about importing fine-quality tea and coffee, Walter Whittard opened his first shop in London in 1886. Masterfully composed blends tailored to suit his customers drew a loyal following, and the company grew steadily for more than a century, even through wars and challenging economic times. As an Anglophile, I would love to stroll the streets of England and stop in to browse one of Whittard's 60 UK stores. But lucky for me, until I book that dream trip, authentic British tea is only a click away. Find the company's online boutique here

We tried Ascot Floral Afternoon first -- an aromatic blend of fine black and jasmine green tea combined with the distinctive flavor of bergamot. A small acidic orange that yields an essential oil used in perfumes and confections, bergamot peel is used in Earl Grey tea. According to the company's web site, "Mr. Whittard created this house blend in the 1940s especially for those long lingering afternoons when tea taken on the lawn was the most British of rituals." The children and I have savored this blend over Saturday brunch. Mary Ashley and I recommend adding a little milk for a delightful cup! 

This weekend we plan to brew a pot of English Breakfast. Beloved for generations, this is Whittard's most popular blend. "A pot of this traditional blend makes breakfast all it's meant to be," the company boasts. "We combine teas grown thousands of miles apart to create this familiar, comforting taste. Assam for strength, Ceylon for depth and Kenyan for color. We can't imagine starting the day without it."

Just in time for the holidays, Whittard of Chelsea has generously offered two bags of loose tea to a reader of A Little Loveliness. For an opportunity to win both the Ascot Floral Afternoon and English Breakfast blends, leave a separate comment below for each entry you choose.

(1) Tell me about a favorite teacup.
(2) Leave a comment if you follow A Little Loveliness.
(3) Leave a comment if you follow ALL on Facebook.
(4) Like Whittard of Chelsea on Facebook.

I will announce the winner soon. In the meantime, congratulations to Usha Murugesu, who won a copy of The Petit Four Cookbook by Brooks Coulson Nguyen.

Photos from Whittard of Chelsea. Used with permission.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Petit Four Assembly and Cookbook Giveaway

Owner of Dragonfly Cakes Brooks Coulson Nguyen encourages bakers like me who have never attempted petit fours to give them a try. Find recipes from the book for all-occasion petit fours in my previous post. Read on for step-by-step directions for assembling petit fours, and don't leave without registering to win a copy of this colorful and inspiring book.

Petit Four Preparation

The process of making petit fours is best if it is spread out over two days. Some items can be made in advance. Petit fours are time-consuming to prepare, but the end result will have your friends "oohing" and "ahhing" over your creations.

These tasks can be done ahead of time:

• Baking the cake
• Making the fillings
• Making the syrup
• Making the marzipan
• Making the cutout decorations

Plan ahead, and you’ll find that each step for making petit fours is not challenging on its own.
There are simply multiple steps. Here is the schedule I suggest:

Day 1:
• Cut out the decorations (can also be made weeks in advance).
• Bake the cake.
• Make the custard, buttercream and fillings (most can be made in advance).
• Fill and layer the cake.
• Cover the cake in marzipan (then refrigerate for at least 3 hours; can be stored in the freezer for up to 1 month).

Day 2:
• Cut the cake into shapes.
• Coat the cakes in the chocolate coating mixture and modeling chocolate.
• Add decorations.


After deciding on a flavor combination, bake the cake and make the filling. To assemble the
petit fours, follow these steps:

• Remove the dark brown cake bloom (the dark layer on top of a cake after it is baked) with a serrated bread knife.
• Slice the cake horizontally into 2 even layers with a serrated bread knife. Gently move the top layer to the side and reserve. If you are making the Vanilla Sponge Cake or the Chocolate Sponge Cake, recipes in The Petit Four Cookbook that are baked in 3 shallow pans, you can skip this step.

• Brush a thin layer of soaking syrup onto the first layer of cake with a pastry brush.
• Spread a thin layer of jam or lemon curd onto the first layer of cake, approximately 1⁄8 inch thick. Then spread 1⁄8 inch of buttercream on top of the jam or curd, or on top of the cake itself if no jam or curd is being used. The jam, curd or buttercream should be thin enough that you can still see the cake through it.
• Top with the reserved cake layer.
• Spread another 1⁄8 inch of buttercream on top of the cake. The top layer of buttercream adheres the marzipan to the top of the cake.

• Using a rolling pin, roll out a thin layer of marzipan on a surface dusted with cornstarch. The marzipan should be 25 percent larger than your layered cake to cover the top of the entire cake (add ½ inch to each side of the marzipan when rolling out).
• Smooth the marzipan over the cake with your hand or a fondant smoother, if available.
• Refrigerate the assembled cake for at least 3 hours to let it set up. It can be stored for up to a week in the refrigerator, up to a month in the freezer.

Cut the Cake:
• Cut the cake into shapes, such as squares, circles, hearts, or whatever you’d like, with a chef’s knife, petit four cutters or cookie cutters. As you decide on the shape, make sure that the cake pieces are as wide as they are tall. For example, if the cake is 1 1/2 inches high, then the shape needs to be at least 1 1⁄2 inches wide. If the petit four cake is taller than it is wide, it will appear as if it is tipping over. Place these cut cake pieces in the freezer on a cookie sheet, where they need a minimum of 1 hour to set, or store for up to 1 month in an airtight container. If storing for 1 day to 1 month, wrap the airtight container in plastic wrap to prevent the cake from absorbing foreign flavors.

• Prepare white or dark dipping chocolate. Place this glaze into a heatproof container that is at least 5 inches deep and 6 inches wide, like a medium glass bowl. The bowl needs to be deep enough that you can dip the cake into the coating and remove it quickly without touching the sides of the bowl.
• Take the cut petit four pieces out of the freezer. It is best to work in small batches, just 5 to 6 petit fours at a time. This will keep the cake pieces cold and the dipping chocolate warm.
Otherwise, the cake layers will separate and become difficult to work with. The chocolate should be warm to the touch, about 90 to 100 degrees; you can measure the temperature with a candy thermometer. If the chocolate is hot to the touch, it will melt the buttercream in between the cake layers. Cool by stirring until it is only warm to the touch.
• Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and get two kitchen forks ready. Use one fork to quickly dip one petit four at a time into the glaze, marzipan side up. Completely submerge the cake into the glaze, remove quickly, and then tap off the excess glaze. (Be careful because the warm glaze can melt the buttercream if submerged too long.) Use the second fork to gently push the petit four onto the parchment paper–lined baking sheet. Once the glaze is dry, 3 to 4 minutes, cut off the excess glaze with a knife. Place each petit four into a candy cup (a small decorative paper cup).
• Extra dipping chocolate can be strained through a mesh strainer and used for another batch of petit fours.


• Petit fours can be decorated with cutout decorations made from modeling chocolate. Another alternative is to finish the petit fours with decorating chocolate. Any leftover decorating chocolate should be discarded.


• Assembled, decorated petit fours can be stored in the refrigerator for up to 1 week. It is best to store them in a plastic container and then wrap the container in plastic wrap to prevent the cakes from absorbing the refrigerator’s odors.

To register for a giveaway of a copy of The Petit Four Cookbook by Brooks Coulson Nguyen, leave separate comments for each entry you choose.

(1) For what occasion would you make or serve petit fours?
(2) Follow A Little Loveliness (find the link on my sidebar).
(3) Like ALL on Facebook.
(4) Add my badge to your blog (HTML code found on my sidebar).
(5) Follow publisher Ulysses Press on Facebook or Twitter.

I will announce the winner soon!

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

All-Occasion Petit Fours Recipe

Has it really been two months since I posted?

I have been without a computer since we moved -- and without internet for extended periods -- so that has made blogging pretty much impossible. Borrowed laptops have allowed me to accomplish a few tasks, but I have missed being in touch with so many of you! I am back today to share recipes from The Petit Four Cookbook by Brooks Coulson Nguyen, owner of Dragonfly Cakes Bakery in Sausalito, Calif. Stay tuned for assembly tips from Brooks and a cookbook giveaway in my next post.

All-Occasion Petit Fours

These elegant and classic petit fours can be used for any occasion — perfect for a wedding shower, baby shower or tea party, yet simple enough to accompany an afternoon card game. Or let them be the star of an evening affair. This confection will elevate any event.

Vanilla Petit Fours:
Vanilla Sponge Cake
Vanilla Soaking Syrup
Vanilla Buttercream
White, Pink and Lavender Dipping Chocolate
White, Green and Lavender Decorating Chocolate

Vanilla Sponge Cake (Dragonfly Cakes’ signature recipe)
Yield: 3 thin sheets of 9"x13" cake, about 24 petit fours

Butter, for greasing the sheet pans
9 large egg whites
1 cup granulated sugar
8 large egg yolks
3 1⁄4 cups cake flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1⁄2 teaspoon salt
3⁄4 cup vegetable oil
1 cup water
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Grease three 9"x13" sheet pans and line with parchment paper. Then grease the parchment paper.

2. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whip attachment, combine egg whites and sugar. Whip on high speed until light and fluffy, about 2 to 3 minutes. Transfer egg whites to a separate bowl.

3. Without cleaning bowl or wire whip, beat egg yolks on high speed until light yellow and creamy, about 5 minutes.

4. In a medium bowl, sift together flour, baking powder and salt. Stir to combine. Using a spatula, gently fold egg whites into egg yolks until no streaks of white remain. Then gently fold in dry ingredients. Slowly add oil and water, and fold gently to combine. Add vanilla last, and fold to combine.

5. Divide mixture among sheet pans, and spread it thin. Bake until golden brown, approximately 10 to 12 minutes. Let cool completely. Store in refrigerator up to 1 week, wrapped in plastic wrap.

Vanilla Soaking Syrup
Yield: 3⁄4 cup

3⁄4 cup Simple Syrup (see below)
3⁄4 teaspoons vanilla extract

1. In a small bowl, stir together simple syrup and vanilla to combine.

2. Store in an airtight container in refrigerator for up to 1 month.

Simple Syrup
Yield: 4 cups

4 cups water
4 cups granulated sugar

1. In a large, heavy pot, bring water to a boil over high heat.

2. Stir in sugar and reduce heat to medium-high, continuing to stir until sugar is dissolved and liquid is clear, about 4 minutes.

3. Remove from heat and let cool. Transfer cooled simple syrup to an airtight container or glass jar and store in refrigerator for up to 1 month.

Vanilla Buttercream
Yield: 2½ cups

1 pound (4 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 2⁄3 cups Custard (see below)
1⁄4 teaspoon vanilla extract

1. In bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whip attachment, whip butter on high speed until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes. With machine running, add custard and vanilla. Beat until mixture increases in volume, about 4 minutes.

2. Store buttercream in refrigerator for up to 2 weeks in an airtight container. If stored in refrigerator, warm to room temperature before whipping again in stand mixer on high speed for 2 to 5 minutes, until light and fluffy. If it isn’t at room temperature, buttercream will be very watery.

Custard (Dragonfly Cakes’ signature recipe)
Yield: 6 cups

1⁄4 cup cornstarch
1 1⁄2 plus 1⁄3 cups granulated sugar, divided
4 cups whole milk

1. In a medium heatproof bowl, combine cornstarch and 1⁄3 cup of sugar, stirring to combine.

2. In a medium, heavy pot, add remaining 1 1⁄2 cups sugar and milk. Stir to combine, and bring to a gentle simmer over medium-high heat. When gentle bubbles form in milk mixture, use a heatproof measuring cup to transfer 1⁄2 cup of the warm milk into the cornstarch mixture. Using a whisk, combine the cornstarch and milk until smooth.

3. Continue heating the milk mixture, stirring occasionally, until it comes to a boil. (Watch carefully, so the milk doesn’t boil over.) When the milk comes to a boil, whisk in the cornstarch mixture to combine.

4. Keep the pot over medium-high heat, continue to whisk, and cook until the custard is thick, about 5 minutes.

5. When custard has thickened, remove from heat. Pour custard onto a rimmed half-sheet pan and let cool. Transfer to a container, and refrigerate. Use to make buttercream within 1 or 2 days before custard begins to get watery.

Yield: 2 cups

1 cup confectioners sugar
1 cup Almond Paste (pasted below)
3 teaspoons egg white
1 tablespoon corn syrup, plus more if needed

1. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, mix sugar and almond paste on medium speed for 3 minutes, until almond paste has broken up and resembles dry sand.

2. Decrease speed to low, add egg white, and continue to mix for 10 seconds. Add corn syrup, mixing until a dough forms, about 3 minutes. If mixture continues to be crumbly, add 2 teaspoons more corn syrup for dough to adhere.

3. Transfer marzipan to an airtight container and store in refrigerator for up to 2 weeks.

Almond Paste
Yield: 3½ cups

11⁄2 cups blanched almonds (slivered or whole)
11⁄2 cups confectioners sugar
3⁄4 cup Simple Syrup, or as needed

1. In the bowl of a food processor, grind almonds until they become a smooth, fine powder, about 1 minute.

2. Add confectioners sugar into food processor, and purée mixture until it is the texture of cornmeal, about 1 minute.

3. With the food processor running, pour simple syrup through the feeder tube into almond mixture, adding only enough simple syrup to turn mixture into a paste.

4. Transfer almond paste to a container, and store in refrigerator for up to 1 month.

White Dipping Chocolate
Yield: 2 cups

16 ounces white coating chocolate
1 to 2 tablespoons vegetable oil

1. Add water to the bottom of a double boiler. Over medium-heat, bring water to a low simmer. (The water should not reach the top part of the double boiler.) Add coating chocolate into top of the double boiler. Stir the chocolate until melted. Make sure to heat it just to the point of melting; if heated too long, it will burn and solidify.

2. Add 1 tablespoon oil, and stir until fully incorporated and there are no oily streaks on the surface. Add up to 1 more tablespoon oil as needed to be sure the chocolate is fluid but not too thin, or it won’t coat the petit fours completely.

3. Transfer chocolate to a heatproof, microwave-safe bowl, stirring in color, if desired. Begin dipping frozen, pre-cut petit fours. If chocolate cools and becomes difficult to work with, microwave mixture in 10-second increments, stirring after each interval, until warmed.

4. After dipping 10 to 12 petit fours, crumbs may begin to accumulate in chocolate. To prevent excess bumps on dipped petit fours’ sides, warm coating chocolate, then pour through a mesh strainer to remove excess crumbs.

[Tip: Use 1 drop of oil-based candy color to create most colors of dipping chocolate, and 2 drops for blue.]

White Decorating Chocolate
Yield: 1 cup

8 ounces white coating chocolate
2 teaspoons vegetable oil

1. Add water to bottom of a double boiler. Over medium heat, bring water to a low simmer. (Water should not reach to the top part of double boiler.)

2. Add coating chocolate into top of double boiler. Using a heatproof spatula, stir chocolate until melted. Make sure to heat chocolate just to the point of melting; if heated too long, it will burn and solidify.

3. Add oil to melted chocolate, continuing to stir until oil is completely incorporated and coating chocolate is fluid. If using, stir in desired oil-based color.

4. To pipe, use a teaspoon to transfer chocolate to a small parchment paper cone or piping pastry bag. If using a paper cone, start by using scissors to snip a small hole at tip, only increasing hole size if chocolate does not flow smoothly from cone.

5. If chocolate cools and becomes difficult to work with, microwave in 10-second increments in cone, stirring between intervals, until warmed. Chocolate must be fluid (approximately 100 degrees, or warm to the touch) to be used for decorating.

[Tip: Use oil-based candy color to create different colors, adding 1 drop for most shades and 2 drops for red.]

Assemble and Decorate
1. Follow directions (here) to assemble vanilla petit fours. Using petit four cutters, make petit fours into squares, or any other shapes you desire, like rectangles or hearts. Place cut shapes on a sheet tray or in an airtight container and store in freezer.

2. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Prepare White Dipping Chocolate, Pink Dipping Chocolate, and Lavender Dipping Chocolate. Transfer each batch of chocolate into individual heatproof bowls for dipping, about 6 inches across and 5 inches deep. Using a kitchen fork, individually dip petit fours into chocolates; try to dip an even number in each color. Use one fork to dip petit fours, marzipan side up. Tap fork on side of dipping container until excess dipping chocolate drains off. Use a second fork to push dipped petit fours onto parchment paper. Wait until chocolate hardens, 3 to 5 minutes. Once dry, cut excess chocolate off of bottom of petit fours. Put each petit four in a small candy cup. Store in refrigerator until ready to decorate. If you are decorating cakes on a different day, store in an airtight container so they don’t absorb the flavors of the refrigerator.

3. Remove petit fours from refrigerator and place onto a parchment paper-lined baking sheet. Prepare batches of Lavender Decorating Chocolate, White Decorating Chocolate, and Green Decorating Chocolate. Transfer chocolate into individual piping bags or paper cones. Pipe decorations onto petit fours, making designs like dots, swirls, and stripes. Let petit fours set for 3 to 5 minutes. Serve immediately, or transfer petit fours to an airtight container and refrigerate until serving.

Congratulations to Faith Hope and Cherrytea, who won a copy of the latest book from the editors of Teatime, Afternoon Tea. Look for more tea-themed giveaways in the weeks to come!

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