Christmas Decorating Ideas at Arhaus in the Galleria

You would have a hard time convincing me to spend my free time wandering through stores most of the year, but at Christmas time, I find it becomes a little more fun.  I enjoy spending some time in decorated spaces, listening to recordings of Christmas carols, and in the midst of crowds of shoppers out to pick out the perfect presents for everyone on their list.  I do most of my actual Christmas shopping online, because it is just so much easier and more enjoyable to actually –shop- in the calm environment of my home, sitting by our Christmas tree.  Decking the halls is an important part of most people’s Christmas traditions so I wanted to share a peek at a recent excursion I made to Arhaus, a furniture and home design store that is a new arrival to the Galleria in Edina, Minnesota.   Cloche and Finials I recently discovered that Arhaus which has other locations around the country is full of inspiration for home decorating ideas, for the holidays, or any time of year.

Interesting Plate Bust Oval Frame Arrangement

There are vignettes throughout store, such as this interesting juxtaposition– a Greek or Roman bust, an ornate frame, a vase of dried greenery and flower-shaped plates mounted on a faux-painted wall.  Not everyone would want to recreate this display in their home, but it certainly gives ideas that grouping seemingly random items together can be an interesting way to display statement pieces along with items that might be hiding in the cupboard.

Moss, Silver Pinecones and Golden Pear Centerpeice at Arhaus

An ornament-adorned chandelier above the dining table topped with moss-lined bowls filled with silver pinecones and golden pears makes a stunning holiday tablescape and is an accessible idea that anyone could recreate at home.

Rooted Twigs in a Bottle

Employees are quick to explain that Arhaus employs shoppers throughout the world who acquire their one-of-a-kind, reclaimed items that are sold alongside their new, custom furniture and decor.  A piece of time-worn ornate Victorian trim makes an eye-catching shelf below a barnboard-framed mirror.  I love the simple bottle of rooted twigs sitting on the shelf.  I have a bottle just like this, and I have twigs, but encouraging twigs to root in a bottle is a fascinating decorative touch that had not occurred to me.

Seasonal Planters Outside the Galleria in Edina

Speaking of twigs, the planters outside the Galleria were done up with seasonal greenery, dried hydrangea, birch, huge pinecones and red twigs and are surprisingly similar to the planters outside my front door.  The only difference from my display is that my spruce branches, birch logs, dried stonecrop and red twigs were all scavenged from nature and saved when necessary garden and tree-pruning took place earlier in the fall.

Upside down Christmas Tree

The first time I saw a Christmas tree hanging upside-down from the ceiling, it bugged me, because–that is just not how Christmas trees are done–.  This manner of displaying a tree has grown on me.  This upside down ornament-adorned tree was grand and really lit up the room with Christmas splendor.

Watering Can Decor

Another unexpected display were these aluminum watering cans hanging from the ceiling in an irreverent display above a bed.  This isn’t going to work in everyone’s bedroom, but it could perhaps work in a sun porch or a mudroom, or outdoors outside of potting shed?Winter Scene in a Green HurricaneEveryone and their brother are making little winter scenes with tiny trees and animals nestled knee-deep in “snow,” which is sugar or fine sand in the bottom of vases, and in lids of upside down jars this year.  I think it is cute, cozy, homespun, vintage Christmas touch.  I won’t deny that I picked up a few, very reasonably priced little trees at Menards to make a winter display myself.  Aren’t we all trying to channel Christmas at Grandma’s house, into our homes around the holidays?  This tray topped with a green hurricane vase with a winter scene, pinecones, a glass bird and a grouping of other sparkling ornaments is another accessible Christmas design-idea that a trip through Arhaus afforded me.  Arhaus is a fun place to visit for fascinating home-design ideas for decorating at Christmas and throughout the year, and is worth the trip whether you want to shop or just browse.  What are your favorite sources of inspiration for home decor ideas?


A Taste of Two Great Twin Cities Patios: El Norteño and Ngon

In the summer we spend almost all our downtime at home on our patio that Bjorn built the first spring we had our house.  We eat here, entertain here, do our internetting, gaze at the garden, plan our trips, rehash the day, daydream, read and occasionally we even get up to pull some weeds.  I am serious when I say that I could spend 10 hours a day here from the minute spring arrives until the fall chill takes hold.  Some days, I do exactly that.  Still there are days when nothing is better than to have someone else cook for us and to return to our haunts from the days of apartment living when patio-dining was our best excuse to spend time outdoors.

I rank Salut on Grand Avenue, the Happy Gnome, and W.A. Frost best patios in Saint Paul for great food and drink.  Relaxing through a meal while tucked into a private corner of these outdoor rooms is a magical summer escape.  Sweeneys and Billy’s on Grand have solid bar food and are happening and fun.  Anyone who has ever set foot in Saint Paul, Minnesota at dinner time in the summer already knows about these fixtures.  This means they’re always busy.  Today, I’m going to share a taste of two patios that have a certain popularity, but are a little lesser known.  As a regular at Ngon and El Norteño who likes to be able to march in and sit right down at an open table, I had to think twice before tipping my hand.  In the interest of encouraging the success of restaurants I like, I’m going to give their patios a public shout-out.  For an escape and a reliably tasty meal, the patios at Ngon and Norteño are hidden gems.

Ngon Vietnamese Bistro – 799 University Avenue, Saint Paul, Minnesota Telephone:  (651) 222-3301

I’ve mentioned Ngon on my blog before.  We keep returning to Ngon and enjoy the authentic and inventive Vietnamese cuisine.  Their use of local and sustainable meat and produce, their stellar selection of exclusively local beers and their house-made charcuterie that Bjorn has enjoyed on earlier visits have proven to contribute to consistently tasty meals.  We found that we equally enjoyed these aspects of the restaurant when we dined on the patio behind the restaurant, hidden from the world by high fences and shaded from the early evening sun by grapevine-wound pergola.  We entered Ngon through the front door which was a bit of an experience in inaccessibility due to the construction of the light rail on University Avenue.  We requested a spot outside and were directed out of the restaurant and back to the sidewalk through the side door and then into the private patio through a gate under a mosiac sign showing the restaurant’s name.  The hostess informed us that we could not have soup on the patio–it is too hot for the servers to carry this out.  When I heard this, I was a little disappointed.  I have ordered Hủ Tiếu with egg noodles almost every time I eat at Ngon.  I am in love with this steamy bowl of squiggly egg noodles and thinly sliced carrot and daikon, halved brussel sprouts, grape tomatoes, whole green beans and bok choy, all still-crunchy, swimming in a light, tasty, clear vegetable broth.  With a little encouragement by my wise husband, I got past my Who Moved my Cheese? moment and realized that change is good, and its high time I venture out into the rest of the menu because it was way too nice to eat indoors.  Now that I’m thinking about it, maybe eating a huge bowl of hot soup on a 90 degree evening wouldn’t be be too many people’s idea of a good time!?We arrived hungry so we started our meal with crispy Vietnamese egg rolls, a crunchy, freshly-fried indulgence filled with vegetables and mushroom served with a little pickly shredded carrot and daikon.

I settled on Bún, a rice vermicelli salad with organic greens, cucumbers, bean sprouts with a generous amount of saucy fried tofu, garnished with more pickly shredded daikon and carrot, herbs and peanuts.  It was refreshing, tasty and totally solid, but won’t oust Hủ Tiếu from its position as my Ngon favorite.  Bjorn ordered braised pork shoulder with basil pasta which he thought was very good.  I didn’t manage to get a photo.

El Norteño — 4000 East Lake Street, Minneapolis, Minnesota Telephone: (612) 722-6888

The patio at El Norteño is similar to all the others I’ve mentioned in that it is secluded.  This particular patio wins hands-down for its foliage and flora, which is well-tended– obviously by a green thumb.  There are potted plants bursting with herbs and flowers and thriving perennials layered several feet deep around inside the entire enclosure which creates a wonderfully lush atmosphere for a relaxing meal.  There is plenty of room on the patio.  The food is straight-forward, authentic Mexican fare.  Tacos, burritos, enchiladas, flautas, tostadas and fajitas with chicken, pork, beef or veggies, served with beans, rice, fresh vegetables and traditional sauces.  It is simple.  Norteño isn’t going to win awards for culinary ingenuity, but the food hits the spot.  The servers who also seem to cook, are few in number, so they aren’t going to win praise for attentiveness and speed, but when you are sitting outside on a gorgeous night, sipping a Dos Equis Amber, eating chips and fresh salsa while waiting for your food to arrive, who is in a hurry, exactly?  El Norteño is licensed for beer and wine only, so wine margaritas are on the menu, but none with tequila.  The only other limitation we’ve faced is our ability to gauge whether El Norteño will be open during dinner hours.  With no website to check, we figure it out by taking a quick drive to Longfellow, and end up at the Birchwood, which is nearby when we’ve guessed wrong, which seems to be about half of our attempts.  Though simple, their food tastes fresh and has good flavor.  This is where I go for Mexican comforts- the lightness of lettuce and tomatoes, rich guacamole, warm fresh tortillas, the energy-giving amino acid balance of rice and beans, and seasoned meats for Bjorn.  

If you’re stuck in the Cities for the 4th of July and need a break from air conditioning, a tasty meal on a patio a little ways off the beaten track is the place to find yourself for lunch or dinner.

Celebrating our 3rd Anniversary at Chase on the Lake

We’re celebrating our 3rd anniversary today.  It is fun to look back on our wedding day which was such a perfect, awesome and fun-filled kick-off to our married life.  We worked hard to fill the day with thought and meaning.  We were surrounded by awesome family and friends who traveled far and wide.  It turned out to be one of the greatest days–special from start to finish.  It was pretty much perfect–except for my bangs in the above picture… not sure what happened there.  What has followed has been wonderful.  Married life is a fun adventure!  Thank you Bjorn for 3 great years!  I am grateful for every day I share with you.

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A few weeks ago, we found ourselves in Walker, Minnesota for a friend’s wedding.  Walker happens to be the town where our wedding reception took place at a historic resort and hotel, Chase on the Lake.  With our anniversary approaching Bjorn suggested that we have dinner at Chase to start the celebration early.  Good call Bjorn! Our meal was fabulous.  We dined on the patio overlooking Walker Bay on beautiful Leech Lake, and had one of the best restaurant meals we’ve had in while.  We started with a 2009 Pinot Noir, which has proven to be a good vintage.  Bjorn had Surf n’ Turf– a New York Strip steak bathed in herbed butter and served with garlic mashed potatoes, roasted root vegetables and an impressive pile of crab legs.  Bjorn cracked into the crab legs with gusto.  We learned in Croatia, the only way to approach the shelling of shellfish is with gusto.  I had a brightly flavored pesto fettuccine with veggies and a caesar salad.  The meal was tasty!  We enjoyed being in the place where the celebration began and raising a toast to all the fun we have ahead.  Cheers!

Creamy Minnesota Wild Rice Soup slow-cooked in the Crock-Pot

For the past month or two, I have been preparing a meal every Sunday that cooks all day in the Crock-Pot on Monday and welcomes us home for an easy, satisfying supper.  Earlier this week I made a delicious Wild Rice soup in our Crock-Pot.*  I bought Wild Rice that was raised on the Red Lake Reservation, a community about 40 miles from where my parents live in northern Minnesota.  When I buy Wild Rice, I seek out rice raised on a reservation from that region, White Earth, Red Lake and Leech Lake Bands all harvest and sell wild rice.  It is the very best wild rice, and I like knowing where it comes from, and supporting the local economy in these communities with the purchase. Before establishing a weekly Crock-Pot routine, we often arrived home on a Monday night tired, a little worn down from stress of the new work week and in no mood to cook.  Nights like that, we often end up going out to eat.  Sure, it is nice to be able to give ourselves a night off, but neither of us are thrilled about using part of our “dining” budget on a last-minute meal that we haven’t anticipated as a nice evening out.  As much as I have been resistant to planning meals ahead in the past, I am tentatively starting to use forethought to my advantage.  I am glad I didn’t know I would start doing this 6 years ago though.  I think I would have been scared by the prospect of becoming a crazed Crock-Pot enthusiast, or at least would have hoped that the meal was served with a touch of irony.  It turns out, at this point in my life, the routine is the opposite of scary, and there isn’t a hint of irony involved.  Making a small effort to have a meal ready when I come home is breathing new life into Mondays!  I leave for work in the morning feeling organized and like a real, functioning grown up.  When the evening ahead crosses my mind throughout the day I look forward to being welcomed home by the scent of simmering soup seeping from the cracks of my old house as I approach the door.  As I cross the threshold, I have little to do to enjoy a satisfying supper and a relaxing evening.

To make this week’s soup, I chopped and measured all of the ingredients into the liner of our Crock-Pot on Sunday night, covered it, and placed it in the fridge.

Minnesota Wild Rice Soup Ingredients:

  • 1 Medium Onion, Chopped
  • 2 Stalks of Celery, Diced
  • 1 large Handful of Julienned Carrots, or about 2 Medium Carrots, Chopped
  • 2 Yukon Gold Potatoes, Washed and Chopped
  • 5 to 8 Button or Cremini Mushrooms, Wiped Clean and Sliced
  • 2 Boneless, Skinless Chicken Breasts optional
  • 1 Cup of Minnesota-Grown Wild Rice
  • ½ Cup Brown Rice – not necessary, but it is cheaper, and adds additional texture to the soup.
  • 1 Teaspoon Dried Tarragon Leaves
  • 1 Teaspoon Poultry Seasoning
  • 2 Bay Leaves – remove before serving.
  • 2 – 32 Ounce Carton of Vegetable, Chicken or Turkey Broth
  • A Splash of Skim Milk, Half and Half or Heavy Cream optional. 
  • Salt and Pepper, to taste.

You might notice that there is no oil or butter in my recipe.  Some soup recipes call for sautéing the onion before putting it in the crock.  I find that step to be unnecessary.  With the long, slow cooking process, everything cooks thoroughly and all of the flavors blend well.  As an added bonus, without sautéing any of the vegetables in butter or oil, calories are spared.  Monday morning, I added the carton of broth, gave it a stir, and set the crock to cook on low heat for 8 hours.  I am not sure if all slow cookers have this feature, but my crock switches to “Warm” when the programmed cooking time is done.  It works wonderfully to keep the soup warm, but not to continue to cook it longer than needed.  This recipe made a nice amount of soup for us for supper and leftovers for lunch.  We don’t need more than two meals of soup, but there would be plenty of room in the crock to double the recipe to feed a larger group, or to freeze extra soup for a later date.  If the entire crock of soup will be devoured the night it is first served, I might add just a touch more Tarragon and Poultry Seasoning, because seasoning was a bit faint on first night.  We thought that the seasoning in the soup came together nicely when we reheated it for our lunches at work.  This is great soup to make in advance and reheat.

If I was making this strictly for meat-eaters,** I would add a few boneless, skinless chicken breasts to the crock when I added the broth.  The chicken breasts can be chopped and mixed back into the soup right before serving

If there are vegetarians in your house who are not strict about meat juices in their food,*** you could even cook the chicken breasts in the soup, take them out and then add chopped chicken to the bowls of only those who want it.  If you want your soup to be strictly vegetarian, chicken can be cooked separately, and added to the bowls of those who want it, or not cooked at all, if no one is eating meat.  There is a continuum upon which every vegetarian places themselves that ranges from unoffended by some exposure of their food to meat at the one end, to completely avoiding meat coming into contact with their food or having meat juices in their food at the other end of the continuum.  You need to do what works for you and yours, and this recipe is easily adapted to accommodate varied diets.  The only remaining step is optional.  About ten minutes before serving you can stir in a splash of warmed milk, half and half or cream.  The soup would be fine without it, but I really like having a little milk or cream in my soup.

Tonight, we didn’t top our soup with anything, but some sliced almonds or sunflower seeds would be nice.  I also like a little shredded cheddar on my wild rice soup upon occasion.  Some people wouldn’t go near soup without a shot of spicy Rooster Sauce, or Sriracha for those who are less familiar with what has become the most popular condiment in the world.  The soup is very hearty and satisfying on its own, so you don’t need much to round out the meal.  A chunk of warm, crusty bread, with or without butter and cheese would be perfect.  Tonight I pulled out a few crackers from the pantry, which I served with some sliced white cheddar and Asiago cheese.

Growing up, my Mom always served egg salad along with soup or chili, so it is what I crave when we’re having soup for dinner, so of course, I made some.  The egg salad was mostly made before I realized that we had no mayonnaise.  I used Dijonnaise instead, and it turned out to be a surprisingly good substitution for regular mayo.  Dijonnaise has the creaminess of mayo, and with the kick of Dijon mustard flavor, I swear that you cannot tell that it is fat-free.

When life is busy and stressful, there are little things you can do for yourself and your family to provide warmth and calm.  Coming home to delicious soup for supper that has simmered slowly in the Crock-Pot all day feeds the body and soul.  We loved this creamy, comforting soup full of vegetables and wild rice.  I will make it again soon.

*I apologize if trademark dilution offends you.  My slow cooker just so happens to be a Crock-Pot.  Words like Crock-Pot, Kleenex and Kraft Dinner are far too deeply embedded in my vocabulary to use their proper generic terminology, especially since I actually use these brands.

**I can’t think of why I would make this soup solely for meat eaters.  It is so good!  I would want a bowl.  Maybe if I made a separate crock of the meat-free version for a party.

***In my reference to vegetarians who are not strict about being meat-free, I might be politely referring to households with picky children.