Blazing Fire and Christmas Treats

Oh, I have treats to show you, blazing fire too!  Here’s treat #1:  Musica

 Something delicious is cooking!

Where do we start . . . let’s see, how about here. . .

This is Titcombs Bookshop in Sandwich on Cape Cod where I went to sign books last week.  But look what they did — with brown plastic tablecloths, they made the front of their shop into a gingerbread house! They cut heavy white paper plates in half and glued them around the doors and windows, and used some as edges to the “house”  . . . they made candies out of them too, and lollypops in the window boxes.  Isn’t that brilliant!?!  I thought so too.  I’d love to try this on our house next year.

I’m almost all unpacked from the trip now . . . I thought I’d show you some of the things I got at antique stores as we crossed the country.  First off, lambs!  You know how much I love lambs!  I had a few before we went away, but on this trip whenever I saw one I thought would fit with my little group, I would get it.  It was so fun to unwrap them, slowly, after forgetting what I’d gotten.  I have a flock!

And look, treasure! I found a Beatrix Potter figurine of Samuel Whiskers!  There was no possible way for me to leave him in that dusty old store, alone and unloved.  I’d never seen this figurine before . . . did not even know what I was missing.  Adorable thing, I saw it from across the room and honed in on it like a submarine sonar system.  (Like I know what a submarine sonar system is, I think I made that up, but you know what I mean!  Like Jack and his rubber band!)  And now Samuel has friends.  Never to be alone again.

And later, in another store, I found Mrs. Tittlemouse!  Another BP person from 1948 I did not know existed.  In her jaunty striped coat with the

bow on the back!  She’s now lined up with the others on my kitchen shelf . . .

And look at this gorgeous vintage tea set I found!  It was displayed on a starched white lace tablecloth in an antique store in Oklahoma City and practically glowed in the dark it was so pretty.  I walked round and round it like a tiger in a cage.  It was such a good deal, I couldn’t leave it there, so we wrapped it all in newspaper and brought it home, and now I’ve given it a nice soapy bath.

It’s all hand-painted, gold-edged, and made in England, it even came with an old silver sugar spoon!

The set serves six, it’s only missing one cup.  But I mixed-and-matched it with both old and new china cups and mugs, to see what it looks like, and I think it’s even better.  I love mismatched! You know what a dish person I am.

Here’s what it says on the bottom.  I don’t think it has a pattern name; I’m thinking Tuscan is the name of the China company.  Has anyone ever heard of it?

I love nesting . . . I’ve been making up for lost time . . .

We’re taking it slow . . . we haven’t even trimmed the tree yet.  That’s OK, it’s in a bucket of water in the dining room, so we’re close.  There’s a wreath on the front door, we’re getting there. We have Christmas in our hearts! I’m determined to enjoy this season and in order to do that, I want to go slow and not feel hurried.  If something doesn’t get done, it won’t matter.  A little poinsettia in the window is just fine for me . . .

I’m just happy to be . . .

I’m spending lots of time in the kitchen with my little buddy . . .

Jack is interested in everything I do, and everything that goes on outside our window ~

It’s been really cold, but beautiful . . . decorative cardinals have been flocking around the feeders.  Note, you California/Florida Girlfriends, that there is no color out there in the garden, it is a sepia/white world here in the winter, which is why we were blessed with the Cardinal.  What a gift!

And it’s not cold inside, it’s crackling and cozy and smells just wonderful . . .

One thing I’ve been doing is making a few little food-gift items for friends.  This morning I made one of my favorite candies for this time of year, chocolate-covered Almond Brittle from page 132 of Vineyard Seasons.  SO easy, and perfectly irresistible ~ and very mailable . .  I thought I’d show you how, in case you have a last minute someone you’d like to please . . . . But first, more MUSICA for the kitchen dance . . .

So all you do is (don’t blink because this recipe is really fast!) put one pound of butter and two cups of sugar in a large heavy pot on top of your stove.

then pour in one-quarter cup of water . . .  hook a candy thermometer to the side of the pan . . . don’t let the tip touch the bottom.

Melt the butter together with the sugar and the water over medium-high heat . . . boil mixture briskly until your candy thermometer reads 300°.

Stir and stir, boil and boil, and while you do you can count your blessings and . . .

watch the birds and stir a little more . . .

The mixture will cook and darken like brittle should.  When it reaches the “crack” hard candy stage on your candy thermometer, 300°, remove the pan from the heat and quickly stir in two cups of sliced almonds.

Then spread the mixture thinly on an ungreased (plenty of butter already in the recipe) cookie sheet (or two) and allow it to cool.

When the brittle is almost cool, melt eight ounces unsweetened chocolate over low heat in a heavy pan, stirring constantly.

Then brush the warm chocolate over the top of the candy.  Let it cool completely before you

break it up into pieces (I hit the bottom of the pan with a hammer to put hairline cracks in it all over, then I do the rest with a knife).

. . . and then I fill the tins and boxes I’ve collected to use for Christmas gifts . . . old ones and new ones from the pantry . . .

I had this darling box that I lined in a lace doily,  and I knew the perfect person to give it to. . .

It’s the same person I’m giving the dishes to . . . the perfect little gift for . . .

Y O U !

Surprise!  Yes, it’s YOU ♥ YOU ♥ YOU, (like bread and fishes, I wish it could be all of you, but for a few days, it will be only YOU, and then, one of you really will walk away with this elegant little English tea set, just in time for Downton Abbey! It’s my present to you.  It’s been so long, I wanted it to be something nice.  The minute I saw these dishes, I thought, my girls will love these.  But then, I couldn’t send them out without a little homemade something!  That wouldn’t be right. So I made you some Chocolate-Covered Almond Brittle to remember me by.  Now all you have to do is leave me a

comment at the bottom of this post and you’ll automatically be entered for the drawing for the Tea Set and box of homemade candy.

(BTW, If this blog comes to your email box, in order to enter you will have to click on www. and come here to the online version, then scroll to the bottom of this post, look for the tiny word “comments,” click on it and leave a word or two and you’ll be entered!)

Then our girl Vanna (Vanna is the same as a “random number generator” only our Vanna has a lot more verve and style) will be pressed back into service. She’s done NOTHING for months, it’s about time she earned her keep. In a few days she will choose one of your names from her giant Santa hat and I’ll announce the winner.  Tell your friends too Girlfriends, your sisters and your mom, because even if you don’t win, you could get invited to Tea (possibly even Twine) at their house and have candy to boot.   You can leave as many comments as you want, Vanna knows to only count each name once.  She is a contest-engineering genius.

So while I’m cleaning up, I’ll tell you about another surprise.  Because if any of you bought a signed copy of our new book A FINE ROMANCE from our studio for your friends and family during this month of December, you don’t know it, but you’ve already given a gift to some very special people. Oh yes! Seven dollars from each purchase through our studio for the entire month of December will be going to Casa Pacifica, an organization in California that “Builds Foundations of Hope” for abused and neglected children. ♥ 

So I got lambs and new BP People and I got to go out and meet so many of you, and you got dishes and candy, and lots more I hope, and we all made a little bit of a difference for children and families, because without you there would be no FINE ROMANCE♥  High five, Girlfriends.  Thank you also for the wonderful reviews on Amazon, I know it’s you.  We are still number one in England Travel Guides!  Thank you so much!  We make a little difference in our own little kindred spirit world.  What goes around comes around.

And now it’s time . . .  I can smell it from here . . .

I put a little something in the oven for lunch . . . and it’s ready!

A big delicious, salted buttered sweet potato all caramelized and ready to go.  Oh yes.  Perfect for this cold day.  Off I go now.  Don’t forget to leave your comment Girls.  Good luck, I hope you are having just the very best time! 

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3,474 Responses to Blazing Fire and Christmas Treats

  1. sandra Griffin says:

    I have so many of your first cookbooks then ran out of room collecting them. Now that my daughter stole most of them, I can get the new ones!

  2. Kathryn says:

    Thank you for spreading good cheer to the Girlfriends, and hope your holiday is blessed!!

  3. Tim says:

    I have to tell you…some of your girlfriends are men too! I absolutely love your books, your home, and your way of life! It’s exactly the New England way of life that brought me to move to New Hampshire about a year and a half ago. A very Merry Christmas to you!



    • sbranch says:

      There is a certain quality I’ve found in my friendships with my girlfriends … starting at the very beginning with my mom and grandma … through all the big and little things in my life, my Girlfriends have always been there. I can’t imagine my life without them! I even wrote a book about them. So that word, Girlfriends, has a lot of meaning for me ~ it’s weighted with courage, loyalty, creativity, energy, nurturing spirit, dedication to home and family and the big one, heart…and, although it isn’t fair to lump everyone together, I would love it if you would be a Girlfriend too. Honorary of course, Tim. Congratulations on making your dream come true, so wonderful! Thank you for writing!

  4. Ashlee Hawkins says:

    Hi Susan! Merry Christmas! I received your new book today as a gift from my husband’s grandmother and I can’t wait to sit down and read it while drinking tea from my new Emma Bridgewater mug! My mother-in-law just introduced me to your blog and I’m in love! Happy holidays to you and yours!!
    With love,

  5. Rachel from Maine says:

    Merry Christmas, my dearest Susan. Thank you for being such an inspiration to me and so many others. May the coming year bring you much happiness!

  6. Pamela Ward says:

    Enjoyed reading your story this lovely Christmas Day afternoon. Always a pleasure visiting your website…making sense of what is important in life.
    Happy New Year to you and Joe and the kittens.

  7. Joanna Peterson says:

    What a beautiful tea set! It reminds me of a partial set I used to have that was made by Johnson Brothers of England.

  8. Stacey says:

    Please enter me for the goodies and know that I pray you had a most Blessed Christmas Day. Left 8 degree WI to travel through ice and snow to see my daughter in KS and then on down to balmy Austin TX for 6 days with hubby’s family…16 of us for dinner today and enough presents for a village! Right now I’m thinking a quiet, snowy Wisconsin Christmas next year might be just the ticket! 🙂

  9. regina chronister says:

    wow what a nice giveaway. I love your work and I write with your pretty pencils. I hope you had a very merry Christmas.

  10. JUDY SAMPSON says:

    Merry Christmas & a Happy New Year!

  11. Sheila J. Ferron says:

    Merry Christmas to you and your family! May God bless you now, and in the new year!

  12. Margie Terry says:

    Merry Christmas! Thank you for the great memories and especially for “A Fine Romance”! Looking forward to opening my “Susan Branch” calendar on
    New Year’s Day to see what’s in store for 2014 – Happy New Year!! Hope
    you’ll be in Pennsylvania for a book signing soon??

  13. Susan Kellam says:

    The cardinals look so pretty against the snowy background. We just have ol’ brown trees here, but the cardinals still show up bright and beautiful.

  14. Jaimee Langston says:

    I have been so busy getting all the Christmastime chores done I have not had time to read your blog until tonight. It has been a highlight of my day. Nice to wrap up the day with this wonderful Christmas give away. Maybe, IF I win, it will arrive in time for my birthday in Jaimurary. That’s my birthday month, I renamed it a couple years ago, my family makes it last all month. Happy New Years to YOU & yours.

  15. Kellie Badger says:

    Merry Christmas! My husband gave me “A Fine Romance” for Christmas! It made me so happy. That was at the top of my wish list. Thank you so much for another wonderful book, a great blog, Willard, and all the other things you do to make the girlfriends smile. P.S. My husband also gave me the 2014 Calendar that my kitchen wouldn’t be the same each year without!
    God Bless,

  16. Michele M says:

    I made this candy! It went home today with the grown kids, with enough left for the two of us on my grandmother’s Christmas candy plate. Thank you for the Christmas story , recipe and pictures. I’m savoring the memories we made this year. Everyone has gone to bed, the dog is curled up on the sofa, and the tree lights are reflected on the snow outside the big window. Peace on Earth, at least for tonight. What a blessing the season is. Thank you!

  17. Lady Dorothy says:

    That is just the most delightful tea set! How wonderful it would be to win it!

  18. Amy H Wickham says:

    Lovely tea set, hope one of us lovely friends wins it!!!! Merry christmas susan!!!

  19. Samantha says:

    Hi Susan, Just wanted to wish you a Merry Christmas. Your blog is such a blessing to me and your Lemon Bar recipe is the absolute BEST!

  20. Cheryl Walsh says:

    I have loved your notes and pictures for years! I got the 2014 calendar and love your new book so much!
    I would love to give the tea set a wonderful home! I collect tea cups and have some to mix with these!
    Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to you, Joe, and the kitty kids from myself, husband Jim and our Kitty kids; Chloe and Buddy, along with their dog pal; Jake!

  21. Beth says:

    3,364 comments?!? Wow, my friend…you are hitting the Big Time! Incredible! This makes me so happy — to know that more and more people are finding your little corner of the internet: getting inspired, creating joy in their own homes, trying new recipes or even just soaking up the ambience and taking a little rest from their busy day! The world could use a bit more of your love and happiness spread around and it’s happening before our very eyes. Yay! Love your Christmas story but my favorite part of your blog was your prayer for us…beautiful. Merry Christmas to you! 🙂

    • sbranch says:

      It takes a village doesn’t it Beth, Your Grace in the Ordinary is a lovely leading member of the village! xo

  22. Becca says:

    I have been without internet for the last week but am enjoying catching up now. Reading your blog always makes life more festive! It’s not just the artwork and photographs– they are always delightul, but your joyful, gracious spirit ties everything up with a ribbon of love. I was given your Book of Days as a Christmas gift and was so delighted! I had thought it was out of print! Anyway, glad you and Joe made it home safely after your long journey, and it looks like you found some exquisite things along the way. I’m always curious whether or not your beautiful treasures ever fall prey to kitty cat antics! But somehow I can’t imagine that you could be angry with Mr. Jack even if he broke something. : ) Who could be mad at that face?

  23. Gypsy by the Sea says:

    Oh my the brittle, never thought of putting chocolate on top!
    Will have to try that!
    And I bet it is really good with almonds. Never tried that either!
    I need to get a candy thermometer. LOL!! And I love baked sweet potatoes! So good!! Yum!

  24. Maryann R says:

    I hope your Christmas was wonderful! I, too, am from a large family and love reading your thoughts on growing up! It’s like your are writing about us!!

  25. Susan Styler says:

    For years now (we are close in age) I have loved and collected your books and given many as gifts. Your special expressions and delighful drawings never disappoint…wishing you and all whom you hold most dear a blessed 2014!

  26. Barb, EW, CT says:

    Thoroughly enjoyed your Number one selling book : “A Fine Romance” and I was one of the lucky girlfriends to get one of the very first copies. Enjoyed following your blog as you went across the country on your book signing……hoping to catch one of them this year. Santa ordered me one of your calendars for 2014 and I am so excited and cannot wait till it arrives!
    Welcome home and Merry Christmas to you, Joe, the kitties!

    Hugs & Smiles

  27. Sue J. says:

    Hi Susan, Merry Belated Christmas!

  28. Nancy says:

    Wishing you a very Merry Christmas and a wonderful 2014!
    I love New Years – a whole blank page to paint upon!
    It’s going to be a good one!

  29. Lynn McCormack says:

    Merry Christmas!

  30. ellie bennett says:

    We have 3 generations following your blog and loving the tales told in “A Fine Romance”.

  31. Sandy says:

    So amazing! My collection is from my grandmothers and great-grandmothers. And you won-t believe it, but I made my grandmother’s English Walnut Brittle for gifts this year. My husband started my collection of your cookbooks since the very first one. I would love to add the beautiful china tea set to my collection, as well. Thank you for your wonderful writings.

  32. Jill A. says:

    Absolutely beautiful! Hope you had a very merry & bright Christmas 🙂

  33. Jackie says:

    Love to reminisce about Christmases past. Seems like only yesterday (maybe it WAS yesterday!). Enjoyed hearing about yours.

  34. Donna Z. says:

    Love the pictures of the beautiful cardinals! I’m enjoying ours as I sip a cup of tea. Wish you could join me in beautiful New Hampshire!

  35. Charlotte says:

    Love reading your stuff even after the holidays! I am waiting on some late comers to our Christmas this year, and I loved reading all about sleeping with your grandmother…priceless : ) whom ever -never slept with a grandma was ROBBED!!! Robbed I say!

  36. Denise says:

    How I love your blog, books, calendars AND this lovely tea set. Thanks for the chance to win!

  37. Carol says:

    Merry Christmas Susan and Family! I love hearing about your Christmas’ past!

  38. “There are few hours in life more agreeable than the hour dedicated to the ceremony known as afternoon tea.”
    Henry James
    “tea time” at our ranch here in Montana

  39. Pat from Long Island says:

    Merry Christmas Susan

  40. Susan Stout says:

    All your decorating is soooo beautiful! Thank you for all your lovely ideas!!!

  41. oh! i missed the contest, but loved this post anyway 🙂

    those dishes are delicious!!

    so nice of you to donate for the cjildren <3

    off to the next post 🙂


  42. Carolyn says:

    Oh Susan! I love love your blog! Just now catching up after all the fun of Christmas with my daughters and granddaughters !! We went out of town to see the Nutcracker ballet and swim in the hotel pool! lol!! It has been a busy but WONDERFUL Christmas as this will probably be my last!! I have been diagnosed with terminal cancer back in May! Doc didn’t give me much time so I am savoring every single minute with my sweet dear girls!!! We serve tea often to celebrate feminity and life…and yesterday, Christmas Day was no exception!! We had a special Christmas brunch with tea…and then spent the afternoon playing Bananagrams and sipping on hot tea in our special tea cups! :). So thankful for so much but especially our special Christmas gift of Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior!! Merry Cheistmas, Susan!!! Love your sweet pictures and artwork!! Love, Carolyn

    • sbranch says:

      I think you have a long way to go if exclamation marks (ie the mark of a happy, energized, curious and excited person) are any indication! Or should I say !!! 🙂 I love your way of being. Thank you Carolyn.

  43. Hina Shah says:

    Hope you had a wonderful Christmas, wishing you a new year full of health and happiness. Thank you so much for giving your readers the opportunity to be the happy owners of the delighful tea set and the sweet treats.

  44. Pam says:

    Love your blog. It always makes me feel so cozy and warm. And I live in Florida! Your Christmas story was hilarious. And the tea set is gorgeous!

  45. Reb Ramsey says:

    The pattern is so very English and wimsical! My best friend is from England and she would adore this tea set!

  46. jackie spagnuolo says:

    I love checking your blog every morning! You have been given such a gift and I thank you so much for sharing it. Blessed Christmas to you and your family.

  47. Tracy P., Memphis TN says:

    Love, love, love the dishes and all of your beautiful decorations! Merry Christmas Susan.

  48. paula davis says:

    Merry Christmas Susan! Your house was so pretty in Yankee. I love the Almond Brittle, my Auntie Jane used to make it and give it for Christmas gifts. Bless you! Have a wonderful New Year!

  49. paula davis says:

    Merry Christmas Susan! Your recipes and decorating are amazing! I love your art work and life story.

  50. Shawn says:

    Just catching up on your blog since your return home! I realized that I began reading your blog on my screened in sleeping porch in the heat of the Texas summer and now enjoying your Christmas preparations in the crisp winter by a warm fire!! I, like you, love the change of seasons and all it brings!!

  51. Julie says:

    Oh how lovely! You are a doll! Love the lambs and the Beatrix Potter “happy’s”.
    Happy New Year, Susan!!

  52. Yes – Tuscan was a company. I have 4-5 Tuscan and they are some of my favorites. Hand painted usually. I have never seen an entire set. Good thing you bought it!

  53. Scott Trudell says:

    Hi Susan…
    The beautiful tea set you featured is indeed from Tuscan China of England. The pattern is Blenheim. It’s quite stunning. That green border simply glows!

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