“A goal without a plan is just a wish.” – Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

Trusting this finds everyone enjoying this beautiful autumn season, wherever you may be. Can you believe it is November 3? Goodness, time moves way too fast. In a blink, we will be in complete holiday mode. Hosting family gatherings, parties to celebrate the season, all while trying to maintain a sense of calm in our daily lives. And, before all the hustle begins there is much to do in and around our homes in preparation for the joyful season and winter weather.

So, first let’s chat about the garden. Yes, summer is gone but those lovely plants which gave us such an abundance of beauty during this past growing season need to be tucked in for their winter sleep. They also might like to have a bit of food as well.  Containers need to be emptied, rinsed, allowed to dry and stored away. As you can see, there is much to do – let’s get busy.

If you are blessed to have magnificent peonies as part of your garden, their stems need to be cut back, leaving about two inches of the stem remaining. Clean and pick up all stems and leaves and destroy them. To prevent disease, the stems or leaves should never be composted. Check to be sure no roots have surfaced. Often peonies like to do this and should you discover yours have done so, cover the exposed root lightly with garden soil – not potting soil. New peonies or ones you have not fed for a while, would enjoy a nice feeding of bone meal or bulb food. Be sure to do this before a rain or water in well.

Irises are another spring beauty and they also require a bit of care before they sleep. Remove all dead and brown leaves. Be sure, the rhizomes are free of tree leaves which have fallen. It is not necessary to cut the plant back, however this is something I have always done. Two reasons. One, the garden looks much tidier. Second, any disease lurking about on the leaves will not be carried into the next season. Irises should be cut in a tepee fashion, and cut to about six inches in height.

Basically, regarding the garden, it is time to have a good look around. Inspect your plants, be sure they have ample mulch, pick up leaves (so important), trim non-blooming shrubbery and remove all spent blooms.  Also, there is still time to plant spring bulbs. You will be well rewarded when spring arrives for taking the time to properly put everything to bed and planting a few bulbs. Truly, you will be ecstatic when you see those bulbs bloom after a long winter. So, do make the effort.

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Next, it is never too early to begin to think of the holidays, what will be happening in our homes and begin preparations. Will you be hosting Thanksgiving or Christmas dinner; will you have overnight guests or will you be hosting a party celebrating the season? My suggestion: If you will be doing any of these, keep everything as simple as possible. We wear ourselves out and get into trouble when we go to the extremes. And, this is the voice of experience talking.

Should you be hosting one of the special holiday dinners, plan your menu today. Yes, today. Once you have your menu, take out your recipes and make your shopping list. Review recipe ingredients and shopping list at least twice. Shopping early for your ingredients will avoid last minute rush, lines and the unavailability of certain items. Marking things off your list is so rewarding. And, as the holidays draw near, you will be happy and relaxed due to your preparation. At the end of this column you will find a couple of my holiday favorites which can be prepared ahead and have always been a hit at our home.  Also, if a guest offers to bring something – let them. Give them a few suggestions of items which would be helpful. Remember, most everyone enjoys contributing to the celebration.

It is also nice to place a pretty basket or container on a table or stand by the front door, filled with a sweet notion for your guest to take home. I usually purchase clear gift bags at the craft store, the kind for cookies or candy.   Fill them with red and green Hershey kisses, or an assortment of different tea bags, perhaps a few handmade gift tags or note cards and tie with a festive ribbon. These simple, but attentive, touches will not go unnoticed and your guest will leave with warm and special memories.

Overnight holiday guests are a big-ticket item for me. And, I imagine they are for you also. Clearly we want everyone who is a guest in our home to feel most welcome and leave with only the best of memories. One of the most important things to do is, make sure your home is clean. The next is, try and give them the best possible night’s sleep. Be sure the bed linens are soft to the touch and are in good repair. Spray the bed linens with lavender water (lavender promotes sleep) and press the pillow slips. Try to give them a comfortable chair and a good lamp. Set out a couple of good books and a few current magazines. If their bathroom will be shared with others, place ample towels and toiletries in their room. Leave a small box of nice chocolates or a sweet bag of cookies, with a note expressing how happy you are to have them with you on a bed side table. Be sure there is a night light in the room. Simply, make the room as cozy and inviting as possible.

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I do hope my column today has provided inspiration. We are moving to the most magical time of the year and we all need inspiration, ideas and helpful tips. Do give my recipes a try, more of them to come later and remember this: “Hospitality is a gift of your time. The most treasured gift you can make for your family and friends is a memory.” – Alda Ellis

See you soon,

Sandra

Recipes

Date Muffins – Lovely served with any meat, or as a morning treat with coffee. These can be prepared a day ahead, place in zip lock bag and heated in the microwave just before serving. They stay very fresh and are wonderful served with orange butter. Recipe makes 1 dozen muffins.

1 cup chopped dates

1 cup boiling water

1 Tbls. Shortening (I use butter)

1 large egg, lightly beaten

1 tsp. vanilla

1 ½ cups all-purpose flour

1 cup sugar

1 tsp. baking powder

½ tsp. salt

1 cup chopped pecans

Combine first 3 ingredients; let stand 1 hour. Stir in egg and vanilla. Combine flour and next 4 ingredients in a large bowl; make a well in center of mixture. Add date mixture, stirring just until moistened. Spoon into greased muffin pans, filling three-fourths full. Bake at 350 for 25-30 minutes.

 

Orange Butter

1 stick butter, softened. (I set butter out at night before going to bed)

½ cup Orange Marmalade

Mix softened butter and marmalade together and place in small serving dish.

This can be made 2-3 days ahead. Refrigerate after mixing. Set out 1-2 hours before serving.

 

Molded Butter

Any small dish will do, but I like candy molds. Candy molds can be purchased online or craft stores. Usually they are found in the cake decorating department.

1 stick of butter softened

Lightly spray mold with non-stick cooking spray. Take softened butter and fill mold – cleaning the edges of butter. Place mold in the freezer for 1-2 hours or overnight. Remove and place on a small serving plate. Note: I have collected vintage butter pats. I use a candy mold that fits each pat. Place one at each place setting. A lovely unexpected touch.

 

Information on the Recipes:

Date Muffins – from my Grandmothers recipes, couldn’t possibly imagine where it came from or how old it is.

Orange Butter – Ina Garten

Molded Butter – something my Mom taught me to do.