Monday, December 31, 2007

Best Meal of the Year 2007 - the runners up

A number of years ago on New Year's Eve, my friends Sally and Scott started this tradition between us where we tell (in drooling detail) about our most memorable meals of the year. Since they moved away a few years ago, we have continued the tradition via phone and email. This year I had a number of great choices, all from our trip to Europe during the summer. Each one combined a unique location with delicious food. So today I will reveal my number 3 and 2 top meals, and tomorrow I will share number 1. I'd love to have any readers out there join in the fun and tell about your best food of the year.

Third Place - Handmade Truffles from Pralinette
Brugge, Belgium

Now, I know this technically is not a meal. However I must confess that we skipped lunch to make up for the chocolates that we consumed while in Belgium. So I guess that counts as a meal, right? We sampled the sweets at many locations, but came back to Pralinette to stock up with boxes to take home. I loved the different combinations of chocolates and the things they rolled them in, but my favorite was one rolled in a toasted coconut.

Second Place - De Lachende Javan (The Laughing Javan)
Haarlem, Netherlands

I had never had Indonesian food before, so it was a unique treat to have a rijsstafel (rice table) meal. This restaurant was recommended by Rick Steves, and we met another pair of Americans in there with his guidebook in hand. The meal consisted of 14 plates of food that were set on a warmer. They included peanut satay, and many other flavors of meat and vegetables that were new and fun. A great meal, followed by an organ recital in the old cathedral - an awesome evening!

Stay tuned for Meal Number 1 tomorrow. And join in the fun by sharing your best meal in the comments!

Sweet and Salty Snack Mix

Here's an addicting snack to enjoy for your New Year's celebrations. The recipe is based on this recipe from David Lebovitz. I like to use more glaze and less cayenne than his original recipe. Do include the cayenne, even if it is just a touch - it adds an interesting flavor in the back of your throat as you're nibbling!

Sweet and Salty Snack Mix

2 cups Pecans (other nut combinations will work, but the pecans are delicious)
1 tablespoon kosher salt
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/2 cup dark brown sugar
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon cayenne (add more or less to adjust the level of heat)
3 tablespoons maple syrup
3 cups pretzel twists
1/2 cup sesame honey sticks

1) Cover a baking pan with high sides with foil (for easy clean up). Spread the nuts on the pan and toast in a 350F degree oven for 10 minutes, stirring once.

2) Melt the butter over low heat. Remove from heat and add the brown sugar, cinnamon, cayenne, and maple sugar. Mix to combine.

3) Put the nuts in a large bowl and sprinkle with 1 tablespoon salt. (If the nuts are salted, you can omit this step. And do mix in a bowl rather than the baking pan because you will get better glaze coverage.) Add the pretzels. Pour the butter mix over top and stir until the nuts and pretzels are coated.

4) Spread the mixture back in the pan, and return to the oven. Bake for 5 minutes. Then add the the sesame sticks and stir. (The sesame sticks tend to absorb all the glaze, so do not add them at the beginning.) Bake for another 5 - 7 minutes - watch carefully so that the pecans do not burn.

5) Remove from the oven and cool. Store in an airtight container.

By the way, one of my favorite cookbooks is David Lebovitz's ice cream cookbook called The Perfect Scoop! You can check it out here:

Sunday, December 30, 2007

Darling Dangling Drops

Now were any of you just a bit curious as to what Clever Karen had tucked away in all of those pretty boxes and bags that she showed you a week ago? Well, now that Christmas is over and the presents have been opened, I can show you a few of the things that were hidden inside. Recently I have been making necklaces with chain that are longer and have something dangling at the end. So here are a few of the necklaces that I made for family and friends.

Friday, December 28, 2007

Sew, Karen, Sew

A year ago today I signed up for a pro account at Flickr. (I know this because I renewed my membership today.) I got hooked on Flickr when I saw all the creative things people were sharing on it, and I love how it connects you with people around the world who enjoy and appreciate the same things you do. Yesterday I was contacted via Flickr by the "Sew, Mama, Sew" blog. They asked if they could feature my Christmas tree crazy quilt. So I'm feeling especially clever on this my first Flickrversary. And in honor of the events of the day I'm including a few more close ups of the quilt. (And by the way, the Sew, Mama, Sew blog is awesome - a happy discovery in the process!) And here is the picture of the entire crazy quilt.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Winter at the Beach

I am back from a pleasant Christmas time visiting family. It is nice to be away for a few days, with nothing pressing to do. No internet (except one stop at Panerra to catch up on email using their free wifi). Time to read books and take naps and shop the after Christmas sales. I also took a drive out to Lake Michigan. I miss living close to the beach, and I always try to drive out to see it in the winter time. The sky was so blue and since I didn't think to bring my camera, I decided to try the camera on my new phone. I've been struggling to figure out how to work this phone, but at least I managed to take some pictures. Today I figured out how to use Bluetooth to download them to my laptop. The quality isn't great, so just pretend that I added some arty effects onto them!

Friday, December 21, 2007

Yet Love...

When is the time for love to be born?
The inn is full on the planet earth,
And by a comet the sky is torn-
Yet Love still takes the risk of Birth.

Madeleine L'Engle

The words from the poem above have been sticking in my mind today "Love still takes the risk of birth." During a time of year when we shelter warmly together with family and friends, the risk that God took for us seems to be a polar opposite.

All is calm and bright here. My suitcases are almost packed and I head out on the road tomorrow for time with family. I'll be away from wifi (unless I sneak over to Panerra to catch up on my email) so don't expect posts for a few days.

Have a blessed Christmas!

It's All in the Packaging!

My friend Andrea was the one who got me started. Every present I ever received from her was wrapped beautifully and creatively and topped with a lovely ribbon. Her packaging transformed even the simplest gift into something special.

This summer when I visited Apple Corporate Headquarters, one of our speakers spoke about the attention that they give to the packaging of their products such as the iPod and iPhone. They want opening the package to be part of the special experience of using their products.

So at Christmas time, sometimes Clever Karen goes a little crazy making her presents look pretty. I have a stash of ribbon and Christmas picks that I collect in the after holiday sales. And recently I've had fun making special tags to go on the gifts.

So here is an assortment of presents ready to go under the tree. (Check myFlickr account, there are more pictures posted there.)

Maybe one of these has your name on it?

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Vintage Postcards

I love the look of vintage postcards. It is one of the inexpensive things I like to look for in antique shops. My goal is to spend 50 cents or under per card. Sometimes I will get a great bargain where they are only a quarter each, and I usually go throught the pile and pick out a dozen of the prettiest ones.

At Christmas time I like to use the old postcards as art work. I might put them in picture frames, on wreaths, or on the Christmas tree. This year I have a door from an old tin pie safe door hanging on the wall. Isn't the rusted punched tin a cool background? I use vintage button magnets to hang them on the door as art work. I like to use the magnets because it doesn't damage the postcards.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

"Let Me out of Here!"

(Snowman preserved in a vintage blue glass jar)

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Welcoming Winter Lights

Christmas lights look so amazing in the snow! The house looks so warm and cozy when the lights glow in the snow. The little trees at the front door are actually up side down tomato cages wrapped with lights. (I set them on garden pots filled with snow so they don't blow away - I learned that trick the hard way!) Check out the close ups of the front door below.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Apricot Pecan Caramels

While traveling in Brussels, Belgium last summer, I discovered this beautiful store called La Cure Gourmande. It is the most scrumptious store I've ever seen, filled with candy, cookies, caramels, and nougats. I bought some caramels and nougats, and then went back to buy more. Everything made me drool and was packaged beautifully. The caramels and nougats were unique - filled with nuts and dried fruit. I was determined to replicate them for Christmas gifts. So I searched the internet for recipes. First I tried making nougats - they were good, but a bit too chewy and dangerous to tooth fillings. But over the weekend, I tried a recipe from Epicurious for Fleur de Sel Caramels, and it was a winner. I added the pecans and apricots for a unique taste like I had this summer. The only thing I don't like about this recipe is the tedious task of wrapping each one in plastic wrap. I plan to try some other dried fruit and nut combinations - I'll let you know how they turn out! And if I don't eat them all in the next week, I may even have some left to share with my friends for Christmas!

Apricot Pecan Caramels

1 cup heavy cream
5 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into pieces
1 teaspoon fleur de sel (or kosher salt)
1 1/2 cups sugar
1/4 cup light corn syrup
1/4 cup water
1/3 cup dried apricots, chopped into large pieces
1/3 cup pecans, chopped into large pieces

Line bottom and sides of an 8-inch square baking pan with parchment paper. Lightly oil parchment. (Do not use waxed paper, as it tends to stick to the caramel.)

Bring cream, butter, and fleur de sel to a boil in a small saucepan. Remove from heat and set aside.

Boil sugar, corn syrup, and water in a large heavy saucepan, stirring until the sugar is dissolved. Boil, without stirring, gently swirling the pan every few minutes, until mixture is a light golden caramel.

Slowly stir in the cream mixture. (It will bubble up.) Simmer the mixture, stirring frequently, until the thermometer registers 248°F, about 10 to 15 minutes.

Add the apricots and pecans. (Add an additional teaspoon of fleur de sel, if you wish.) Pour into the baking pan and cool 2 hours.

Cut the caramel into strips of about 1 and 1/2 inches wide using a pizza cutter. Then cut the strips apart into pieces using scissors. Wrap each piece in plastic wrap or waxed paper.

(note: I discovered after the caramels set for a few days, they get a little moist around the dried fruit. Guess you just have to eat them fast before that happens!)

Snow Day Dance!

This is what I did last night when they called me to tell me that tomorrow was a snow day! (Click on the link below to view the movie!)

Snow Day Dance

Sunday, December 16, 2007


My friends in Dallas wanted to see the snow. So I created a live TV show for them using I used the webcam on my laptop and pointed it out the window and narrated the scene with Christmas music playing in the background. Kinda silly but fun. What a cool tool! Anyway, I recorded a little bit of the broadcast, and you can watch it here:

Winter Wonderland

I woke at 5 am to THUNDERSNOW! Yes, lightning and thunder in a snow storm, a sure sign that it is snowing heavily. By 10 am we had a good 7 to 8 inches, I'd say. I bundled up and powered up my snowblower, which (as you know) I did test out yesterday! I got half the drive done, and was zooming down the sidewalks so I could do the neighbors' walks. I was praising God for the person who invented the snowblower! Yes, and as I finished the neighbor's sidewalk and returned to my yard, the snowblower stops blowing snow. The engine was running, but the blades that turn to pick up the snow weren't moving. Alas! No more snowblower, which I had been blessing and praising just moments before! So I finished the rest of the driveway by shovel.

That's what I get for eating Christmas cookies for breakfast! I guess I need to burn off some of the calories for those cookies (and all the other Christmas goodies that I baked yesterday and have been nibbling on ever since.) Anyway, stay tuned. Recipes for some of the goodies will be coming soon!

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Winter Storm Warning

Well, get ready. Starting around midnight, the snow will start in earnest, and will keep going all day tomorrow, or so they say. Six to nine inches! (If this were a weekday, it would be the perfect recipe for a snow day!) I've actually tested that the snowblower is working, and I have plenty of baking, wrapping, and finishing of presents, so if I have to stay in all tomorrow, I won't mind. So stay safe and warm!

I'll have a blue Christmas......

Clever Karen has this obsession with blue and white. The guest room is papered in blue and white, and decorated with blue and white plates. Over the years I've found a few ornaments to match the room. Last year I found several at a hardware store in Holland, Michigan that always has cool decorations, including the windmill seen above. So now my little tree totally coordinates with the room! (Note: there are more blue and white ornaments posted at my Flickr site - click on the badge on the right side.)

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Bubbling Bouquet

Our Christmas tree growing up had 3 or 4 bubbler lights that always fascinated me. A few years ago I bought a couple strings of bubble lights in the after Christmas sales. This year I combined them into a bouquet of berries in a stoneware crock. Cute simple decoration....

Sunday, December 9, 2007

Italian Tortellini Soup

Someone left a copy of this recipe on the table in the teacher's lounge. I have no idea who left it or where the recipe came from (so I can't credit the source). Update: Fellow teacher Suzanne walked into the computer lab to pick up her class and noticed the soup picture on my laptop. "Oh, that looks like a soup that I make from the Blue Cross Healthy Recipe Book. Mystery solved!. It sounded great for cold, snowy, icy weather (which is the forecast for this week). I did my own modifications to it, and used some products from Trader Joes. It turned out great, and I will get at least 3 or 4 lunches out of it this week!


1 TB olive oil
1 teaspoon chopped garlic (I'm lazy and use the prechopped kind in a jar.)
1 32 oz. carton of chicken broth
6 oz. frozen chopped spinach, thawed
1 12 oz. package of tortellini
1 teaspoon dried Italian seasoning
1 14.5 oz. can chopped tomatoes
shredded Parmesan cheese

Cook the tortellini in boiling water according to package directions and drain. (Leave them a little under cooked so they don't get mushy in the soup.) Meanwhile, saute the garlic in the olive oil. Add chicken broth, spinach, tomatoes, and seasoning, and simmer. Add the drained tortellini. Heat until warmed. Serve with Parmesan cheese sprinkled on top. Serves 4.

Notes: I used the chopped spinach and broth from Trader Joes, as well as their tortellini that comes dried in the pasta section of the store. You could also use frozen or fresh tortellini. Get the smaller size so they are bit sized. I used Contadina diced Marinara tomatoes, which worked great, and had some onion already chopped into the mix. This is thick with tortellini - if you want a thinner soup add more broth or less tortellini!

Update 4/19/09 - I just made this again.  Used only half the package of tortellini and used fresh baby spinach which I coarsely chopped, about a half a package.  I didn't precook the tortellini and just let them simmer in the soup until soft and cooked and that seemed to work fine.

Saturday, December 8, 2007

Festive Wall

Ok, I stole this idea from a Pottery Barn catalog. (Does anyone else save Pottery Barn catalogs? They are like magazines, and have such cool decorating ideas, even if you don't buy their stuff!) These are some winterish pictures that I took, matted on red, and then put in black frames that I bought from Target's dollar spot (and I so wish I had bought more of those frames). The winter Pottery Barn catalog a few years ago had walls decorated with at least a dozen pictures like this - I loved the look. My teeny bathroom wall only can hold a few pictures, but I think it adds a nice touch for the holidays. When I take some better winter photos, I want to change the pictures in the frame. Here's the entire wall, with old rusted white tins filled with greens.

Thursday, December 6, 2007

Vintage Ornaments

I have a collection of these ornaments - some were from my Grandma, others from garage sales. I love them, but I seem to break at least one every year. (Yes, on last Saturday the latest one bit the dust, jumped right out of a bowl onto the kitchen floor).

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Oh Little Town of Bethlehem

Usually this nativity is the first decoration that I put up. Why? Well, it only takes a minute to put up. But more important, it symbolizes to me what Christmas is all about. And it has a memory attached to it - I purchased it in the real Bethlehem. So I think of that trip to Israel way back in the 80's. I still remember the olive wood store where I purchased it - filled with everything you could imagine made out of olive wood. I remember Manger Square and ducking through the tiny door to get into the church of the Nativity. So it serves as a special reminder to me - of both that trip and of my faith.

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Crazy at Christmas Time

Things DO get crazy at Christmas time at Clever Karen's house. Ok, I'm talking about my crazy quilt. For several years way back when, I was really into crazy quilting. One of my projects was this Christmas tree crazy quilt. It took me several years to finish, and I enjoy hanging it up in the dining room. I always love the texture that crazy quilting gives to to fabric, and the mix of patterns.

Sunday, December 2, 2007

Travel Christmas Tree

Last February I redecorated my office with a travel theme. Of course, I needed a customized Christmas tree for the room!

Last Christmas I bought several globe ornaments from Restoration Hardware in the after Christmas sales. So I was looking forward to putting up this tree. I added some silver beads, some vintage postcards, and a few ornaments that I collected on various trips. I had some old pearlized lights which add a kind of vintage look to the tree.

Here is a link to the office photos on Flickr:

My Creative World Studio

Hello from Clever Karen

After over a year of reading blogs, and experimenting, I decided it was time to launch my own blog where I could share the other side of my life: the things I do (when I have time) when my school work is done. It will reflect some of the creative things that I enjoy - decorating, crafts, cooking, gardening, photography, digital scrapbooking, beading, and more.


Blog Widget by LinkWithin