Dark Chocolate Flourless Torte with Blood Orange Ganache

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This rich chocolate torte is almost too good to believe.  With just 3 ingredients which come together in a few minutes, it is decadent and very satisfying with a texture reminiscent of lush chocolate fudge.  Baking the cake in a water bath helps keep it moist.  There is no added sugar in the recipe and the sweetness comes exclusively from the chocolate you use.   I find dark chocolate sweet enough but if you prefer your dessert sweeter, go with milk chocolate or maybe half milk/half dark.   It is a decadent dessert so cut it in small slices.  It will easily serve a dozen guests.   To change it up from my usual recipe, I added a layer of ganache on the top of this version simply made by melting a Godiva dark chocolate-blood orange chocolate bar right on top of the warm cake.  So easy!  To finish it up, I sprinkled candied orange peel all over the top and served fresh orange slices on the side.  A truly special dessert for holiday entertaining.  Love the chocolate and orange combo of flavor but don’t want to fuss with the chocolate ganache layer and candied orange peel?  Just add the zest of 1 orange to the batter and serve with fresh orange slices.  Did I tell you the cake can be made up to 4 days in advance???

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Creating Shade in Outdoor Spaces

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“Someone is sitting in the shade today because someone planted a tree long ago.”

Warren Buffet

Some seek the sun. I prefer a respite from the sun, yet still spending a lot of time outdoors.   I took shade for granted until neighbors cut down mature trees between our yards and we lost the shade we had designed a patio around.  Overnight, we stopped using this patio which had been a favorite spot for reading and dining next to a peaceful water feature.   It made me sad to be unable to enjoy this beautiful space anymore.  We recently came up with a solution for this dilemma which gave me the idea to write about shade.  More on that later.

Offering shelter from the sun creates cooler, comfier spaces and enhances existing outdoor spaces for maximum enjoyment. It is possible to let the sun shine and enjoy being outdoors without soaking up the damaging UV rays.  Designing pockets of shade is just as important as the plantings in your garden.  Shade also reduces stress on plantings and decreases watering needs.  Here are some ideas to help you create nice shady spots, shielded from harsh rays and sizzling temperatures.

1) Garden Umbrellas

The easiest way to create shade is to add an umbrella over your outdoor table.  Obvious.  Near our dining table we had created an outdoor seating area to lounge and read.  The problem was it could not be enjoyed for 90 percent of the day because it was in full sun.  Enter the off-set, free standing umbrella. I fought my husband on this one.  I thought 2 umbrellas near each other would look tacky.  I thought it was gimmicky to get one of these giant umbrellas with adjustable positioning. Boy, was I wrong.  This seating area is now one of my favorite places to enjoy the garden and entertain. It gets used daily and is shady almost all day long.  To minimize competing umbrellas, we matched their colors.   Our umbrella, a special-order from Home Depot,  came equipped with a canopy-top solar battery that powers a series of mini lights that run along the umbrella’s ribs and cast lovely whimsical star-like lighting at night as an added bonus.

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Front Porch Decorating

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“Porches are America’s lost rooms.”

Barbara Grizzuti Harrison

One of my favorite spring rituals is setting up the front porch for warm weather living.  This year, I looked at the porch furniture coming out of storage and suddenly felt I had it all wrong.  I decided to move everything around.  Do you ever do this?   I really love the new design so much more and can’t figure out how I didn’t set it up this way all along.  The porch seems more spacious.  The conversation easier.  Movement around the porch smoother.  There is much more of the pretty outdoor rug, my design starting point, to see and enjoy.  I even had room to add a bar area!  It’s not a huge space but it lives big.  I had to laugh, as I sat on my “newly” designed porch reading the latest Architectural Digest issue, when the words of Bunny Williams, a favorite designer, jumped out at me:  “I get so upset when people ask what’s new in decorating? Just take what you have and make it look new.”  Point well taken Bunny!

You can read about how I first created an outdoor room on the front porch here.  Tour the redesigned space and let me know which version of the porch you like more. But don’t  be seduced by those gorgeous blue hydrangeas on the old porch….They’ll be making another appearance at a porch near you, soon!

One of the biggest changes I made was moving this console table previously used as a room divider to the focal point of the porch. The plate rack with its bird house and green tole garden plate was already on the wall. It makes so much more sense to put the console there. The lanterns and urn are the same as when the table was on the side of the porch. Now they really all work together. The table is also in the middle of the seating area and can be used to serve food when entertaining on the porch.

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Easter Table and Front Porch Décor

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Treating you to lots of eye candy today to inspire your spring or Easter décor and entertaining!  From the welcome of spring blooms on our front porch to Easter around the house and at the table, there are ideas galore  to take away.  Enjoy!

An ice cream parlor chair repurposed into a planter greets visitors with a chalkboard welcome sign. Tutorial here.

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Charlotte aux fraises

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“Every spring is the only spring, a perpetual astonishment.” –Ellis Peters

Looking for a make-ahead, no-bake, showstopping spring dessert?  Look no further.  This strawberry charlotte is it!  The lovely pink color comes from puréed strawberries which are passed through a sieve to give the filling a luscious, velvety texture.  The lady finger cookies are dipped in a lemon simple syrup giving the cake a fresh burst of flavor.  Easy to make, the cake looks sensational and tastes, well, like a slice of heaven!

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Goat Cheese Stuffed Hisbiscus Flowers

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My friend Anca is the finest of hostesses.  When she received our Italian conversation group, one of the appetizers she served elicited a lot of intrigue and delight.  It was a small little amuse-gueule, with a star-like shape which held a tiny ball of goat cheese.   Anca revealed it was a hibiscus flower imported from Australia, (available on Amazon),  sold in a simple syrup.  I promptly ordered a jar and served them on a cheese platter at a dinner I hosted. No one could guess what they were but we had fun trying!image Continue reading

6 Wine Crate Centerpieces

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“Wine is one of the most civilized things in the world and one of the most natural things of the world that has been brought to the greatest perfection, and it offers a greater range for enjoyment and appreciation than, possibly, any other purely sensory thing.”
― Ernest Hemingway

Wine crates are one of my favorite containers for displaying flowers.  They are available for free from most wine stores and come in many different sizes.  They can be painted or stained if desired to coordinate with a décor theme.  Because of their generous size, they make an imposing centerpiece once filled with flowers.

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This wine crate was filled with pots of annual flowers.  I ran a string of whimsical dragonfly lights through the flowers to light up the centerpiece for an evening party.  Magical!  For detailed instructions on how-to, please click here. Continue reading