The Gift Stash

Ever find yourself needing a last minute gift with no time to run out to buy something? Ever gone to the store for a gift and not been able to find a thing that fits the person or occasion? I think this happens to us all at least occasionally and it can be a source of unnecessary stress. I solved this problem by creating what I call my “gift stash.”

I have a drawer in my home dedicated to little gifty goodies that I purchase as I’m out and about. I pick up soaps, lotions, candles, kitchen and bath items, hand towels, gourmet foods, and other things that I can assemble into a nice gift whenever the need arises. I take advantage of sales and I try to keep items on hand that I think would appeal to most people I know. I stash these items away so that I am always prepared whenever an occasion comes up that necessitates a gift.

The items I gravitate towards tend to be things I’d personally enjoy receiving. They also tend to be somewhat practical in nature. I think just about everyone enjoys a new dish towel, pretty picture frame, scented candle, or a luxurious bar of soap. I also keep a few gourmet items and extra bottles of wine stocked in my kitchen for gift giving. For example, a jar of gourmet olives, a hunk of tasty cheese, and a box of fancy crackers presented in a pretty serving bowl would be much appreciated by a foodie friend.

I also maintain a supply of gift wrap and bags, baskets, cellophane paper, ribbons, tissue paper and other wrapping supplies to make the presentation effortless. I look for good deals on these items at the end of each season when they can easily be found on sale.

Keeping a stash of gift items and supplies is easy to do and doesn’t require a lot of space. You can dedicate one drawer in a dresser, a shelf inside a closet or cabinet, or simply keep a box under the bed. Additionally, keeping a gift stash makes each shopping excursion fun as I perpetually keep an eye out for interesting items to stock it with.

Do you keep a stash of gifts at the ready? What kinds of items do you find make great gifts in a pinch?

Easy Overnight Pizza Dough

Pizza is a bit of an obsession at our house. Calling for delivery stopped being an option several years ago when I discovered a super easy, ultra-forgiving way to make pizza dough at home that tastes far better than any delivery service pizza I’ve had.

Before I discovered this method, I thought yeast-raised dough was temperamental and time-consuming, requiring lots of watching and kneading. Nothing could be further from the truth! With this recipe, I simply mix up my ingredients the night before and refrigerate the dough overnight. By the next day, the dough has risen and is ready to be used. It just requires a few hours on the counter to reach room temperature and it’s ready to be rolled out.

First, mix yeast with warm water and a little honey to proof the yeast. See those small bubbles? That tells you the yeast is alive.

 

I love the flexibility of this recipe. Something comes up and can’t use your dough the next day? No problem, it will wait for you. Can’t use it for a few days? Just add in a tablespoon of flour (so the yeast has something to eat and can continue growing) and it will keep a few more days. You can actually prolong your dough for quite a long time this way. You can even freeze this dough. When you’re ready to use it, leave it out for at least 12 hours so that it has had time to thaw and reach room temperature.

Drizzle a little olive oil on top of the dough before covering and placing in the refrigerator.

 

Here’s my recipe. I am giving approximate measurements as I have learned that being exact is not required for this dough. In fact, I don’t measure any more and just kind of “eyeball” the proportions. If you don’t use salt, leave it out. If you are cutting out sugar, leave out the honey or use another type of sweetener instead. I like to use an Italian XX flour as I find it gives a crispy bite and a nice chew, but it is certainly not necessary. 

Overnight Pizza Dough (makes one 16″ pizza)

1 1/4 cups flour

1/2 cup warm water

1 teaspoon yeast

1 tablespoon honey

1/2 teaspoon salt

Add honey to warm water and sprinkle yeast on top. Let sit for a few minutes and then gradually add flour and salt. Stir until ingredients are incorporated. Once all the flour is incorporated you should be able to form a sticky ball. If it’s too wet, add more flour; too dry, add a bit more water. Drizzle a little olive oil on top of dough to keep the surface moist and place in a covered glass container. Refrigerate overnight. Remove at least 2 hours before you plan to roll it out. Roll out on a floured surface, then transfer to baking sheet. Top with your favorite sauce and toppings. Preheat your oven to its hottest setting (up to 500 degrees) and bake for about 10 minutes. Enjoy!!

If you find your dough snaps back and doesn’t allow you to roll it out easily, let it rest another 10 minutes. See those air bubbles? Those air pockets will create a crispy light pizza crust.
Topped with tomato sauce, sun-dried tomatoes, onions, peppers, pepperoni, mozzarella and fresh basil, this is our favorite Friday night dinner.

 

Falling for Majolica

I’m not sure exactly when I fell in love with majolica but I have been collecting it for some time. This colorful, whimsical pottery always brings a smile to my face. While majolica can be found in all the colors of the rainbow, I prefer the rich greens and golden hues, particularly for displaying during the cooler months. I think it enlivens a space and creates a warm festive feeling.

Majolica typically features themes of fauna and flora, with an abundance of leafy patterns, which are my favorites. Antique majolica is tin glazed earthenware which has a distinctive metallic sound when “pinged.” The glaze in early pieces often contained lead so it’s more decorative than suitable for food use.

Majolica, also known as maiolica, takes its name from the Spanish island of Majorca. It was originally made by 14th Century potters and was popularized in the mid-15th Century. It was exported from Majorca to Italy during the Italian Renaissance and debuted in the United States at the Philadelphia Centennial Exhibition in 1876.

By the 1870s, majolica was being mass-produced for an expanding middle class in countries like England, France, Sweden, Portugal and the United States. Griffen, Smith & Hill was a prominent Pennsylvania manufacturer, who sometimes marked its pieces with “G.S.H.” or labeled them as “Etruscan Pottery.”

Over the years, it has fallen in and out of fashion, but was particularly attractive to 19th-century collectors. For the Victorians, with their heavy drapes and dark wood-paneled interiors, it brought much desired light and life to homes. This tactile pottery with its naturalistic shapes, vibrant colors, and often humorous themes appealed to a growing consumer society.

This plate is Japanese and was probably made in the 1940s for export. Japanese majolica is still fairly easy to find and is quite affordable.
This begonia leaf dish is Etruscan and dates from the 19th century. This much-loved design was reproduced in many different colorways.

 

Due to over-production, majolica fell from fashion by the early 1900s. But it began to be re-discovered in the 1960s, and because of its popularity, reproductions abound today. Modern majolica is food safe as lead-based glazes are no longer in use.

Majolica is soft and porous and chips easily, so older pieces that have survived can be quite valuable. I have purchased most of my pieces at antique shops, estate sales and online, but occasionally I see a piece at a flea market or thrift store. Even with a chip or hairline fracture, I feel quite lucky if I find a piece for under $40 and when I do, I snatch it up! However true collectors covet early pieces in excellent condition which can be much more costly, in the hundreds or even thousands of dollars.

For my fall display, I added in a couple of small ceramic pumpkins, some beaded fruits in warm colors and a burlap covered wire basket. This display should transition nicely into the holiday season. After Thanksgiving, I will likely change out the pumpkins and beaded fruits for a few Christmas ornaments and perhaps add some twinkle lights. Stay turned for its next incarnation.