April 2, 2019

cool stuff i like

Happy April! Here's a gift for you, because sharing is caring. You can find the recipe for some of the nicest oatmeal cookies you will ever ever eat right here. I'm so happy to be creating this post. March was madness, and not in a good way. Illness after illness, and then on the very last day of March I was rear ended, not terribly, but it scared me because I'm a nervous driver on the best of days. How I wish I could just ride a train everywhere! I was excited for March until I realized it was going to be a month of yuck. Now I'm excited for April, and hoping for less yuck.

Box news: Japanese Tea Garden boxes will be going out later this month - this theme is closed and only going to my subscribers, but I'll show and tell the contents and maybe that will inspire some of you to sign up for my Summer Box! A batch of British Boxes went out at the end of March, and I'll be sending out more this month, and also in May. I'm taking orders for more May orders, if you're so inclined, and I have some new items for my Anne of Green Gables boxes. I'm sending those boxes out in May and June. The Anne boxes are SO charming! If you'd like one of those for someone you love or yourself, email me with your request and mailing information, so I can send an invoice. See the 'Info' tab at my blog header for more info and details.

These little lemon cakes are just right for spring.

This online country kitchen cooking class sounds amazing, and I saw on Heather's Instagram that a Spring version is coming soon.

Fabulous Julie from Latherati has created new packaging that looks like beautiful book endpaper for her literary based fragrances - you must see!

This book series sounds right up my inner 9 year old alley, maybe for you or your kiddos as well?

Very pretty spring candy from Terrain - carrot cake marshmallows??? NEED.

Overnight cinnamon rolls.

And strawberry buns. OH MY. (i'm totally making these and...I'm just going to use ready made strawberry cream cheese. yep.)

Seasons on other planets. COOL.

Adored this house tour. And this one.

I adore this Instagram feed.

Cool Book of the Week: OH MY OH MY another Chirri & Chirra book is coming!! I'm obsessed with these books, and I still don't have the winter book yet, but I MUST get it and then when 'Chirri & Chirra Underground' comes out, I'll have to get this one so that my set is complete. Here is a post I did on the second book awhile back. So pretty right? These books are touched with fairy magic. Each one is SO beautiful and so gentle and sweet - about two darling bobbins who have enchanted expeditions in various aspects of the natural world. I can't WAIT for this! Gift worthy, unique, and absolutely delightful. OH MY WORD just saw that there's a 5th book coming THIS AUTUMN wherein the kiddos go explore a little town! I just gasped and squealed.

Have a lovely rest of your week! I'd love to know what you're watching, eating, and reading! Springtime is often audition season for my theater loving daughter, so I'm not really watching much of anything, nor am I reading as much as I'd like, and we're eating far too much take out. I'm trying to get into weekend batch cooking - it seems so smart and such a good way to take the pressure off of school-week cooking.

March 20, 2019

hello spring

And hello friends! I've really missed blogging. And taking pictures. And talking about books. It's been a very long winter, it seems like. Spring has become my favorite season, even more so than fall. I've been teeter-tottering between the two seasons, trying to decide which one is my favorite, and I'm just going to go ahead and take a side. I LOVE SPRING SO MUCH. I LOVE YOU SPRING. Even when spring is late, even when it's cold, even when it's actually Mud Season, or Second Winter, or False Spring - I'm sorry but I'm just so happy to see 1) light and 2) cherry blossoms.....yep. SPRING.

If you missed my last post, let me share again my news that my Spring Box sold out before I had a chance to advertise it. I'm SO sorry! I do these boxes basically as a lark, and I'm just one human, and I can't pack too many boxes on my own. Or let's put it this way lol - I sure don't want to. So I keep my numbers for each theme very small. I feel badly about it, so I put together this post to give you a wonderful spring feeling and hopefully provide some spring treats inspiration for you to seek out on your own.

LOOK AT THESE DARLING LINEN SOCKS. Aren't they so beautiful?? I'd love to put some like this in one of my boxes, but they are pricey-ish for one pair of socks. They'd blow my box budget.  Anyway, these come in various colors - I'm very torn about whether I like the china blue ones I've shown above, or the navy and orange colorway better.

And isn't this corduroy tote bag so cute? I loooooove the sweater as well, but I have no info on it. The tote comes from Notebook Therapy, which has so many adorable things. I got this planner from them!

Some of you might not know that I'm a part-time photographer - I took the photo above of newly emerging cherry blossoms and I've decided to make it available as a print. If you're interested, email me at juliasbookbag (at) gmail (dot) com and let me know what sizing you're looking for, and I can tell you about pricing.

Julia's favorite lip balm in the whole world is Smith's Rosebud lip balm, and they come in so many varieties and the lip trio set is a great way to try several out at once. I used the Mandarin Orange balm in last year's Russian Winter surprise boxes.

I just wouldn't be meeeeeeee if I didn't throw a tea item at you to consider. I recently came across this spring tea blend called 'Blossom' from Wedgwood. It's a Sencha green tea flavored with umeshu kishu plums and pink cornflowers. It sounds so delicately wonderful, and how about that packaging?? Gorgeous. Oh if you want to see some major tea time eye candy, check out more on the Wedgwood site - oh my word. The tea cups! The tea packaging! I'm probably giving the bags of tea to everyone on my holiday list next year. SO PRETTY.

Please take a moment to imagine the gasping that went on when I first glimpsed this floral edition of 'Pride and Prejudice', from Tar & Feather Classics. There's charming and then there's this. Check out the floral 'Emma' edition as well!

And lastly, I was very pleased when I came across this 'Hedgewitch Botanical Oracle' card deck. I love Oracle decks - I have a fairy oracle deck illustrated by Sulamith Wulfing that is truly enchanting, and sadly out of print. It's delightful to pull a random card with an affirmation to think about for the day. I love that in this botanical deck, the focus is on herb and plant lore, with the history and meanings of the botanicals included in the accompanying guide book.

Happy spring time thoughts to all!

March 14, 2019

Hygge Surprise Box Reveal

It's STILL winter, so I haven't totally missed the mark in trotting out this very extremely late post - I'm so heartily sorry to be so behind in putting together this full reveal over here. Sometimes, #LIFE.

This was such a fun box to put together, and I hope that those who got one of these had a great time opening it and discovering that my Hygge box had a bit of a twist - it was actually a Fika theme! If you're not up on your Scandinavian lingo, fika means 'coffee and snack break' in Swedish, but it actually signifies more than that - it has a cultural meaning as well. Fika is a ritual, and a state of mind - the idea of slowing down and recharging - not just once in awhile - but EVERYDAY.

A dear friend of mine has been throwing Fika parties in early December the past few years, and I think it's the most genius idea ever.

So as you can see, the book I used was 'The Little Book of Fika' by Lynda Balslev, and it's the cutest thing ever. It's daintily mini sized, but still large on content. Fika and its place in Scandinavian society is fully explained, and the entire back half of the book consists of recipes, treats, and drinks. It's just the sweetest pint sized book. And when I got the idea to wrap them up into cheery red and white tea towels, well friends, I gave myself a hearty inner pat on the back. I tied the bundles with twine and just look at how darling they are!

The vibe I was going for was festive, happy, winter picnic. I wanted the colors to be bright, cheerful, and something to really brighten up a gloomy winter's day!

To that end, I used some really lovely teas from Pukka - they came in fun primary colors, and the flavors are fantastic - Chamomile, vanilla and manuka honey, a turmeric blend, and a black tea variety that has warming cinnamon and cardamom.

I also included pencils from Marimekko, which you can see below. Marimekko is known for their bright, colorful Scandi designs, and every time I tucked a pencil into a box, I sighed because I really wanted to keep them for myself.

What really made these boxes special, in my humble opinion, were the knitted mug cozies. Aren't they so cute? I was going for the whole Fika experience - cozy drink and treats! Ok so the treats - my husband looked incredulously at me when we were at IKEA and I saw these candy bars. He was like, are you really putting in candy from IKEA and I was like, OH YES I AM, these are fabulous. And they are. I was very impressed with the flavors - dark chocolate with orange, caramel and almonds, milk chocolate with lingonberries and wild blueberries, and chocolate with a coffee crunch.

And Swedish gingersnaps. Those went in as well. Cookies and chocolate! I honestly think this was one of my best boxes so far. I'm STILL not charging enough for these boxes. Sigh - I'm long on creativity, short on business sense.

The last fun item that went in were these Fika cards, showing off various Swedish tea time treats. So darling right?

So there you have it! Hygge Box 2019. My next theme will be Japanese Tea Garden in April. And friends I have some sad news. It sold out, before I even got a chance to advertise it. My subscribers jumped all over that one! If you're hankering for something later in the spring, I'm doing a batch of British Boxes, and I have new Anne of Green Gables boxes with some special items that I haven't used before.

Right now I'm pondering on the Summer box - I think I know what I want to do, but if you have some ideas, shout them out! The only reason I got started with Hygge is because a dear blog reader suggested the idea to me.

February 24, 2019

cool stuff i like

Well for those of you who have read my blog sort of near the beginning - here's a refresher and for those who are new-ish to my blog, here's some context - I began this space the spring/summer before my daughter began kindergarten. And as you can see from the photo above - she recently turned 13 years old, and friends......this birthday hit me really quite hard in the feelings center. Don't get me wrong, I'm thrilled and happy to have every day with this wonderful growing person, but for years now, my kiddo has been telling me that 13 marked the spot where childhood ended. I tried telling her no, actually you'll still be a kid, but that really fell on deaf ears for the most part, and maybe she was surprisingly effective at brainwashing me into agreeing with her and yes this is all still ONE SENTENCE, but I seriously had tears in my eyes all day long the day before her birthday.

But you know what? This story of mom angst has a happy ending. Two days after the birthday passed, Julia decided she wanted to begin watching 'Downton Abbey' and she fell in love FAST. Now we're currently engaged in a sporting competition over who loves the show more. My kiddo thinks that she loves it more than I did/do. THAT IS SO FUNNY. (Ah the confidence of youth.) No one loves that show more than I do. She's currently in Season 2 and wondering when things are going to get better for Bates & Anna. Oh dear.

Somehow I agreed to make her birthday cake again, even though every year she keeps asking for things that my skills aren't equipped to handle. She wanted a strawberry and lemon layer cake with blueberry compote (nope, it's jam) and she wanted a lemon frosting that was tinted purple. I couldn't find purple food coloring so I had to keep adding blue and red a bit at a time, and it turned out more dusty lilac than purple, but she was pleased. It took A Very Long Time. I used box mixes and subbed in butter and milk for the oil and water. And I used this lemon buttercream frosting recipe.

Online things of interest:

Speaking of cakes, I love this idea for this hoping-for-spring-time of year. A fruity cake with chocolate frosting!

I like this top for spring.

I'm watching 'A Discovery of Witches' right now and it's fun! Not at the level of the book, but still fun. Have you seen it? Are you a fan of the books?

Love this. Self care slow TV. I'm all for it! See here for more suggestions.

I made this dessert recipe during the recent Seattle Snowpocalypse. It was the easiest dessert I've ever made, I made it with a can of canned peaches, and it easily could find a place at the breakfast table.

A fun house tour.

This book sounds interesting!

So does this one.

This is lovely. 

I just ordered Alicia Paulson's enchanting looking Secret Garden Apothecary box! She's SO amazing. I'm giving it to a lovely friend.

(I wish I had thought to make a book box with this theme ha ha! Maybe someday I'll do 'A Little Princess' box for the kiddos. But probably not because I feel Most Strongly that this book must be read only in hardcover and I usually use paperbacks in my boxes. But maybe? You can read more of my Little Princess thoughts here.)

Cool Book of the Week: Ok I need your help, please! I've had a wonderful time reading my way through 'The Bear and The Nightingale' (I loved this book so much it appeared in this book surprise box) and 'The Girl in the Tower'. Now the last book (?), 'Winter of the Witch' has been released and I'm having a cover conundrum. I have the first book with the cover that was released in the U.S. And the second book I ordered from the U.K. WHICH COVER DO I CHOOSE NOW? I like them both. I find the U.S. version on the right to be more dramatic, while the U.K. version on the left is more folk artsy. I'm legitimately torn. And in case you are new to these books - these grown up fairy tale spins on the tale of Vassilisa the Brave are among my favorite reads of the past several years.

Have a lovely start to your week! I'll be back at the end of the week with the full reveal of my Winter Hygge Book Surprise Boxes.

February 12, 2019

chocolate cake for february

Well hello. This was my birthday cake and I meant to share the recipe back in January. Then I got sick sick sick with some yet-to-be diagnosed stomach problem (I've been having issues for years), and my daughter was hit in the head HARD by a kid flinging open their locker door above her, apparently as fast and violently as they could (yeah I'm talking to the school, her nose could have been broken, or her eye put out), and THEN Snowzilla Seattle 2019 moved in and it snowed a TON and got crazy cold, which is unusual in the temperate and mild Pacific Northwest. The school kids have missed a week of school, and counting! This area just received the most snow it has had since 1945 apparently.

I've worn out my eyes (and my family's patience) checking the weather reports every 5 minutes. Multiple weather reports. And Twitter feeds. I've lost my mind.

So it's been an exhausting few weeks! Happy news - all of the Hygge and Folkore boxes were mailed before the storm  - I discovered that the USPS post office had a big rate change after Christmas - a two to three dollar increase! Regular ground mail is now the price that priority mail used to be. So no more quick priority mail, sorry! I have to switch to ground, which can take about a week to get to the East Coast, but most things take that long in the mail, so um this is a really boring bit of information and no one cares about this Melissa. Things arrive when they arrive!

Now Valentine's Day is almost upon us and I thought you might like to see this chocolate cake. Easy to put together, and we all loved it. I always do chocolate cakes for my birthday, and my daughter usually does some kind of fruity cake, typically lemon. And Andrew likes non-cake. He'd rather have cookies, brownies, blondies, or coffee cake.

So I didn't really discuss it on the blog at the time, but last fall my kiddo had a TREMENDOUS opportunity. After nearly 6 months of auditioning since April 2018 with nearly a thousand other kids, she was cast as one of the orphans in 'Annie' for one of Seattle's main professional theaters. It was a huge endeavor, and she pretty much missed school for most of the autumn, but it was a life changing experience for her. And she's bonded for always with the other girls who were also in the show!

The reason I mention it in this post is because at one point during the run of the show, the cast had 'Bundt Fest' day. As in most everyone in the adult cast made cakes and brought them in to share. One of the musicians in the orchestra made this chocolate orange bundt cake and I nearly fainted when I tried it. Turned out that this guy went to high school with my husband and they know each other! I badgered my husband until he badgered this guy into coughing up the recipe.

NOW - I don't think my version was as magical as his. Not sure why. I might have needed more chocolate, I was a little short. But it was still FANTASTIC, even if not as death-by-chocolatey a version as my husband's friend made. Even cake hating Andrew enjoyed it.



nonstick cooking spray for the pan
3/4 cup milk
1/3 cup seedless raspberry jam orange marmalade
4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, melted
1/4 cup raspberry orange liqueur, such as Chambord Grand Marnier
3 large eggs
One 15.25 box devil's food cake mix
1/2 cup fresh raspberries for decorating (i didn't use these)
1 bunch fresh mint for decorating (see above)
Dark chocolate orange candy bar (1?), chopped up

1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons semi-sweet chocolate chips, dark chocolate orange bits
1 tablespoon seedless raspberry jam, orange marmalade
1 tablespoon raspberry liqueur, such as Chambord (or orange liqueur)
1/2 cup heavy cream

  • For the cake: Preheat oven to 325 degrees F. Spray a bundt pan with nonstick cooking spray, or grease with oil or butter.
  • In a large mixing bowl, use an electric mixer to whisk the milk, jam, melted butter, liqueur, and eggs. Add the cake mix and beat on medium speed for about 1 minute. (Put in the dark chocolate orange chopped up in here).
  • Transfer the batter to the prepared pan and bake until a toothpick or cake tester comes out clean when inserted into the cake, about 35 minutes (might actually need 45-50 minutes). Let cool in the pan for 15 minutes. Remove the cake from the pan and transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.
  • For the ganache: Put the chocolate, jam, liqueur in a mixing bowl. Bring the cream to a low simmer in a small pan set over medium high heat. Pour over the chocolate and let stand 10 minutes. Stir with a whisk until smooth. Let stand another 10 minutes.
  • Place the cake on a cake stand or plate and pour the ganache over it, letting it drip down the sides. Use the raspberries and mint to decorate the top to look like a holiday wreath if desired.

And there you have it! Really easy as far as cakes go, and it's moist and fudgy. You can make it with a dark chocolate orange candy bar, which is what I did, or wait until the holidays and use one of the chocolate oranges that you find in stores at that time - I find them at World Market or Trader Joe's. But a candy bar would also be just fine!

HAPPY CHOCOLATE DAY IN ADVANCE! That's what we call Valentine's Day. For more of my chocolate cakes over the years, you can check out this one and this one.