Trolls and Giants in the Land of Ice

September 2022

Some of the photos I am posting are from other members of the travel group. I unfortunately didn’t not keep track of who took each photo. I apologize for not giving due credit.

It all began with a post from travel expert Eric Hansen who has a YouTube channel Backpacking TV and you can follow him on Instagram @EpicTrails365. He was approached by TrovaTrip to host a trip to Iceland and he invited his followers to join him. We signed up right away.

Great hosts, great group of people to travel with and our guide Bara was amazing. She adapted to our group and adjusted the itinerary to our level of activity perfectly. I highly recommend a tour guide. The sites are fairly far apart and it really helped to have someone who knew exactly where to take us. She even threw in some special extras.

The places we went to were definitely where the tourist go but it’s not like other places we’ve visited. Even at the most crowded waterfall it was still a very reasonable number of people. There were the occasional Instagram posters who were trampling areas they weren’t supposed to be in but mostly it was like minded people who absolutely were in awe of the landscape. The trip there was pretty easy. From NYC it was just 6 hours. The airport was small and easy to navigate.

Weather – I am not a person who likes the cold. A couple of days into a visit to any location with snow and I’m over it. We visited Iceland in September. The highs during the days were in the 50s. According to Bara we had unusually amazing weather. I think it drizzled the first day we were there and the rest of the days it was sunny and blue skies. We packed lots of layers and rain gear. One day I wore my long underwear but the rest of the time standard long pants, long sleeve shirt, sweater, heavy jacket, and hiking boots were fine. No gloves, scarves, or hats required. But again, we had unusual weather and everyone says to expect the weather to be all over the place so pack appropriately.

Because this was a package everything was included – where we stayed, where we ate for main meals and the sites we visited.


We flew into Reykjavík and stayed just one night before we were off on our bus. We didn’t really have a chance to explore that first day. Several of the people in our group stayed a week longer. If you are doing a group thing and plan to stay a few extra days I recommend staying after the group part is over. That way you have a better lay of the land and can go back to the things you want to further explore. Our only stop in Reykjavík that first day was Skal a bar around the corner from our hotel. The food was amazing. Fresh and interesting.

Salt Baked Beets with walnuts and homemade mascarpone; Roasted sunchokes with smoked creme fraiche, hazelnuts, apple and brown butter; Smoked arctic char with sour cream, cucumber and herbs. The drinks were the special that day and I can’t remember what they were but they were delicious.

We stayed that first night and the last 2 nights at Hotel Klettur it was nice, clean and comfortable. Great location. One thing that took us a while to figure out, you had to put the room key in a slot near the door to turn the lights on. It was a very ingenious way to conserve energy and make sure people turned out the lights when they left the room. Most hotels had this. Most of the architecture in Reykjavik was newer and basic. Built for the weather. I’m sure there are historic sites, museums etc but we didn’t get to see them because we didn’t stay longer. I regret not staying. Just a couple of extra days would have been enough to really see the city.

Day One | Canyons, Geysers & Hot Springs

Our first site was Thingvellir National Park. Waterfalls, canyons, and historic sites. Game of Thrones filmed several scenes in the canyons. Click here for other filming locations in Iceland. As you can see, it wasn’t super crowded. There are other people there but it was really easy to snap photos without people in the shot. It was also easy to stray off from the group to see other parts of the park. No one was over by the church and the cemetery (my favorite part 🙂

Next stop was Geysir Hot Springs. This was one of the touristy places. Lots of people trudging along not really taking in the view. I would still recommend stopping here but it wasn’t may favorite. The springs were hot, really hot. In the first photo you can see bubbling, that’s boiling water. They had signs everywhere not to touch the water it was scolding hot. The geysers were just feet away and there was just a small rope around it. It was pretty exciting when they went off.

The next stop was massive Gullfoss Waterfall. It’s really hard to tell just how massive this was. If you look closely you can see the people walking along the path in the first photo. We needed raingear to protect us from the spray. In the third photo you can see how the path leads to the top of the waterfall. The view was beautiful.

At the geyser park there was a nice gift shop, restrooms and a restaurant with good food. Most of the food, even at the tourist spots were good. Nothing crazy, just freshly made burgers, soup, sandwiches etc.

Following the geyser we stopped at a hot springs, Secret Lagoon Hot Springs it was not a fancy one but I don’t think it would have mattered. It just wasn’t my thing. I’m not a hot tub person, really not even a water person. You change in a locker room and they want you to shower in a group shower before you put on your swimsuit. Which I can tell you did not happen. I felt awkward enough changing in front of the group I was with. After strategically working with my towel I managed to get changed, showered with my suit on. Then jumped in. Yep it was warm water. You just stand around with everyone in a warm pool of water. The springs are off to the side and they build a natural wall of stones to divide it and create a little stream as it runs down the stream it cools off enough for the pool. So if you aren’t sure if it’s worth doing or not. There are no surprises, it’s exactly as pictured where ever you go. A warm pool of water. The changing facilities might be a little more private but in the end you are just standing around in a warm pool.

Our first night on the road we stayed at a farm just outside of Hvolsvöllur – Hotel Fljotshlid It was beautifully natural. We saw a glimpse of the northern lights. It was simple, dorm style accommodations and a nice meal. The view was spectacular though.

Day Two | More Waterfalls, Sneaker Waves & Pizza

On our way to Skogafoss Waterfall we stopped at a farm that was at the foot of the Eyjafjallajökull volcano. The visitor board explained how the farm continued even after the volcano erupted. Which was something that we saw a lot along the way. Traveling on the road around the perimeter of the island you have mountains and volcanos in the center with glaciers in-between them filling up the valleys. You can see how the landscape has changed depending on if the glacier has receded or if there was lava from an eruption.

Next stop was Skogafoss Waterfall there’s a fairly steep climb to the top, stairs most of the way but only a rail or rope in certain places. Once you are at the top it’s pretty flat. You can continue to hike along the path and eventually end up on the other side of the mountain. Camping is allowed most places but they are having to make changes to those rules because farm and home owners had tourists camping on their property without asking and then asking to use their bathrooms or kitchens. So if you do want to camp, be sure to look into the rules before you go.

Next stop was Reynisfjara Beach, as we drove there, our guide cautioned us several times to be sure to stay away from the water’s edge. The waves are very erratic. They have warnings for sneaker waves. If you search for Reynisfjara Beach sneaker waves you’ll see videos. The beach has beautiful black sand, the most interesting cave with natural columns and several rocky islands just off the coast. There was also a little restaurant, Black Beach Restaurant. Again, everything was fresh and well made and the restrooms were nice. Even at the tourist spots or parks the facilities were really nice.

On our way to Fjadrargliufur Canyon we stopped at a little village called Vik and had pizza at Black Crust Pizza. They make their dough with volcanic ash and serve some of the pizzas with red pepper jelly. I will never eat pizza without jelly again. Imagine a cracker, with cheese, prosciutto and jam. That’s what it was like. Delicious. After beer and pizza, our guide asked us to walk down to the water and collect a stone for our next stop.

Along our road to our last stop for the day, Fjadrargljufur Canyon, where the road Hrifunesvegur meets Sudurlandsvegur there’s a little rest stop. People started building cairns there. We each added our stones to build our own little cairn and leave our mark in Iceland. I absolutely loved this.

Last stop for the day was Fjadrargljufur Canyon, easy hike to the top then flat from there. If you prefer not to hike up you can drive a little further down the street from the main entrance to a second parking lot. Then walk over to the look out area. There is a path further along the canyon from there but we stopped at the overlook. The path is far from the edge and has a little rope to keep you off the flowers. The look out area has a metal railing so you can get closer to the edge if you want to. See the sheep in the last photo. Sheep just run wild wherever they want to go. At the end of the season all the farmers go and collect their sheep and bring them in for the winter. It’s a big deal there. We found sheep in the craziest places.

Bara had a surprise for us and we made an unscheduled stop. At a little town called Kirkjubæjarstofa there was a folktale about 2 nuns from 1186 you can visit the website to read more about the area. We parked in the parking lot of Kjarr Restaurant next to the Klausturhof Guesthouse. There’s a path just across the street from the parking lot with a picnic table. It’s pretty hard to see. Beautiful little creek with amazing old trees and rocks around the water’s edge. There’s a little stone step path that you climb through the woods to get to the top. You could see for miles. The hike down was just as steep but if I can do it almost anyone can. A suggestion of walking sticks for next time was well noted.

Wow what a day! We hit the ground running on this trip and never stopped. We made it to our next hotel, the nicest of them all and the best food. Foss Hotel Glacier Lagoon. I’ll let the photos speak for themselves. We had a delicious meal for dinner then they have a breakfast buffet. Most of the hotel’s had the breakfast buffet but this one was definitely elevated. More warm dishes and offerings. We stayed here 2 nights.

Day Three | Boat Rides, Diamonds & Ice Caves

Next day we were off to a boat ride in Glacier Lagoon and visiting Diamond Beach. The boat ride takes you around a lagoon next to a glacier that is slowly receding. As parts of the glacier break off the icebergs float into the lagoon they slowly float down the river to the ocean. As they reach the ocean they get washed up on shore of the black sand beach. The guides on the boat ride were outstanding. So happy to be there and happy to show us around. There was a little stand with necessities and quick food. I kept hearing about the Icelandic hot dog with crispy onions so I gave it a try. The hot dog is served with raw white onions and crispy fried onions, ketchup, sweet brown mustard called pylsusinnep, and remoulade, a sauce made with mayo, capers, mustard, and herbs. It was a good hot dog. I’m not sure I’d wait in line for an hour for one (in Reykjavik there’s a famous food truck with them an people do in fact wait that long) but it was good while we waited for the next leg of our trip. There were also bathrooms and several food trucks there. The boat tour company was Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon Boat Tours.

After the boat ride and a snack we drove across the street to the Diamond Beach. Where the icebergs wash up on the black sand beach. I couldn’t take enough photos. (the first photo is from someone else on the trip. Not sure who.)

Next we drove about 30 min to go off road over what looked like Mars terrain to a glacier. We boarded a truck with giant wheels (if you have back problems you wouldn’t be able to ride in this vehicle. It just hauled ass over every rock there and you bounced all over the place). The “road” was over the ground that was left after the glacier receded. There’s no vegetation yet just dirt and rocks of all sizes. Once you arrive we hiked another 15-20 minutes to the edge of the glacier. Donned spikes for our shoes and hiked up the glacier. There were some interesting holes to look down but aside from being able to say I hiked on a glacier it was just a giant slope of dirty ice. Now the cave underneath, that’s a completely different story. The opening was very large you just walked in. The ceiling is ice so it looks like you are under a river. There’s a river flowing through it. As you walk further back into the cave it gets smaller for a short time and we had to duck down as we walked. That was just for a minute then it opens back up, turns a corner and ends. But it was so beautiful. If you look closely in the cave photos most have people in them. That will give you the scale and help you see what’s up and what’s down.

Another amazing day, finished with probably the best meal we had on the trip. Dinner at Foss Hotel.

Day Four | Hiking, Hot Springs & the Backside of Waterfalls

On the road again, to Vatnajökull National Park this was a big hike up over the mountain. At the end we had the best fish and chips from a food truck at the visitors center/camp area.

Once again our guide surprised us with a little side trip to Kvernufoss waterfall. We were virtually the only group there visiting these falls. Moss covered boulders along a winding river in a canyon that takes you to a hidden waterfall. That you can walk behind. It was dreamy.

Our last stop for the day was Seljalandsfoss waterfall. This one had the most tourists. Tourist, the annoying kind that are rude and throw cigarette butts on the ground. It was ok. Kvernufoss gave us the behind the waterfall experience without the nasty people and the walk to the waterfall was much nicer. Seljalandsfoss you need rain gear. You walk up to the waterfall around behind it and back out. There’s a fairly steady stream of people walking through and you will get wet from the spray and the mist. The location had restrooms and gift shops. There was a food trailer with quick snacks and coffee. Mostly packaged items.

On our way back to Reykjavik we stopped at Reykjadalur Hot Springs. This was an easy 2 mile hike from the parking lot to a hot spring. They did have places you could change but they weren’t private. It was a platform with a divider but you were divided from each other not everyone else. Again, not a water person so I just opted to put my feet in. In the parking lot was a really cute visitors center. Nice bathrooms (they were pretty nice everywhere we went) and a restaurant that made waffles that were delicious.

Back to Reykjavik

Back in Reykjavik we decided to hit some of the restaurants I had seen online before our trip. The first 3 photos are from Sandholt Bakery. We stopped here the first day we arrived and grabbed a coffee. I wanted to go back to have lunch but we got there just after they stopped serving meals. Their bakery and desserts were yummy anyway. The next 2 photos are Braud & Co a bakery, also end of the day so they only had a few things left but also yum. Next 3 photos are from Cafe Loki. I knew it would be touristy, it’s right across from the Leif Erikkson Monument downtown. They serve traditional Icelandic food. From the YouTube channels it looked pretty basic. The item that got my attention was the ryebread ice cream. I have no way to describe this. It doesn’t taste like rye bread or like ice cream. It’s not overly sweet, its also not creamy. It’s not the most delicious thing I’ve eaten but it wasn’t bad either. Definitely worth trying though. We didn’t have to get a table, I just ordered at the counter. The last photo is from Joe & The Juice which was in the airport. They made smoothies, pressed sandwiches and coffee. If I’m ever there again, I will definitely pick up a sandwich when I land and again when I leave. As with most of the restaurants in Iceland, fresh made farm to table food.

To Wrap it Up

So glad we made this trip. As I said, I highly recommend a tour guide. She understood what we wanted and customized the trip to fit our preferences. There were lots of campers and camp sites as well. If you want to travel without a guide try visiting some of the YouTube channels for Iceland. I really liked Iceland with a View she has an entire channel devoted to Iceland. Her point of view is unique as well because she’s an American living in Iceland. I also liked the post from The Ryan’s Travel – What do Icelander’s Eat.

Packing – whatever they tell you to pack, pack. Normally the weather is all over the place. We were there in early September. We had t-shirt days and days with long johns. We were lucky and had warm sunny days but that isn’t usual. So come prepared. Most of the YouTube channels have packing tips.

We didn’t really need cash. We used our credit card just about everywhere. I grabbed $100 in Icelandic Krona at the airport when we arrived and ended up only using it as a tip for our guide at the end. I know usually they say don’t exchange money at the airport they charge a higher fee. But with a group I didn’t want to have to make the group stop so I could exchange the money and I didn’t want to have to search for a place to exchange the money in town. It was worth the extra fee to get it over with.

The airport is nice, easy to get around and had great restaurants and friendly staff. The gift shop actually had the nicest t-shirts I saw on the whole trip. Gifts were a little hard to get. It was either tourist junk made elsewhere or hand made items that were hundreds of dollars. And living in the south a $300 wool sweater doesn’t really make sense.

As active as this trip was is was so relaxing. This was the first group/tour guide trip I’ve been on. It was a great way to travel. I’m not sure it would work everywhere. It worked in Iceland because even the touristy places are beautiful. It’s not like normal vacation places. It would be hard to miss the “good spots”. It also helped we had such a great group to travel with.

Sausage Apple Cheddar Savory “Sweet” Rolls

Ina Garten on the Barefoot Contessa makes cinnamon rolls using puff pastry which is brilliant. Instead of having to wait for the dough to rise like regular cinnamon roll dough you just roll and go. I hate waiting for stuff. After making her sweet rolls I started wondering if you could make the same thing only savory – here you go…

I made these with sausage apple and cheddar but the sky is the limit. I love recipes where you don’t really have to measure anything and you can use whatever you have in your fridge or whatever your theme is or just whatever you feel like eating. I’ll put other ideas at the bottom.

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2 packages puff pastry; thawed but very cold
1 lb ground sausage
½ large sweet onion; diced
1 granny smith apple; cored and diced
1 tablespoon dried or fresh thyme
1 tablespoon sorghum or molasses
1 teaspoon cinnamon
3 pats of cold butter
½ cup chopped pecans
2 cups shredded sharp cheddar cheese
Non-stick baking spray


Serves: 12 rolls

Heat the oven to 400° and spray a non-stick muffin tin with baking spray

Cut each pat of butter into ¼ and place each ¼ into a muffin cup; sprinkle with a few pecans

Sauté the onions and sausage in a little olive oil until the sausage is no longer pink

Add the apples and sauté until soft

Add the thyme, sorghum, and cinnamon and stir

Remove the mixture from the heat and let cool completely (if you don’t let it cool it will make the puff pastry all gross and gummy – so let it cool)

Unfold one sheet of puff pastry on a floured surface

Using a rolling pin roll out the pastry to 12” x 11”

Sprinkle the pastry with half the shredded cheese and half the cooled sausage mixture; leave about a 1” strip at the end of the pastry

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Roll up the pastry tightly ending with the edge that has nothing sprinkled on it; rest the roll on the seam

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Using a serrated knife cut the log in half then each half into 1/3; place each roll cut side down into a muffin cup

Repeat with the other puff pastry and other half of the cheese and sausage mixture

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Place the muffin tin in the preheated oven with a cookie sheet under it in case it spills over

Bake at 400° for 30-40 minutes or until each roll is golden brown.

Run a knife around the roll to release it and turn them out while still warm

Serve at room temperature

Some Other Ideas

Italian – mozzarella, olives, salami, with Italian seasoning

French – mushrooms, gruyere, ham, and thyme

Mediterranean – feta, kalamata olives, sundried tomato. Serve it with a tomato and cucumber salad and taziki sauce

Mexican – cheddar, jalapeno, steak, served with a queso and pico de gallo

Southern – fried chicken, pickles, mayo

You get the idea – think of a sandwich or pizza that you like and make it work. Just don’t use anything too wet – like put tomatoes on the side. Make sure you chop everything pretty small so it rolls up well. Add things like olives and sundried tomatoes that have a lot of flavor but keep track and don’t use salt if you have items with salt already in them. Don’t forget some cheeses are pretty salty

Yule Love What I Did to the Place



My idea of the holidays is Yule. I’m 3/4 German and 1/4 Scottish so I love Celtic and Germanic traditions. Bringing evergreens into the house and using as many natural elements as I can. I also like to use what I already have. If I have something pretty I don’t want it to sit in the cupboard I want it to be out where I can see it.

The beautiful pictures are from Carly Robertson Photography

This year I used The Magnolia Company for all my garlands, wreath’s and the mini pine trees. I laid the garland along the top of a hutch and the fireplace mantels, along the railing of the front porch and draped them over the backs of my wicker swing and wicker couch. It was really easy – just lay or hang the garland then add some ribbon or a bow.

The Outside

Wreaths hanging in the 2nd floor windows with ribbon and over the lights on the garage, garlands along the front railings, a swag over the front door, poinsettias tucked here and there (I always put the poinsettias in either clay pots or metal tubs I don’t like the foil they come in). Garland draped over the swing and couch and a tray of mini evergreens with a grapevine wreath around them. Take the holiday items and put them in your normal pots or incorporate them into your usual décor don’t just plop a poinsettia with foil on it by the front door and call it a day. Just drop it into a clay pot or switch out the usual plant by the front door. Tuck ribbon or trimmed branches from the Christmas tree in stuff you already have.

Pull the kids wooden (not plastic) red wagon around and fill it with poinsettias
and boxes wrapped like presents. And use natural reds and greens
like green leaves or red berries.

The Foyer

I hung a wreath from the railing instead of garland on the railing – I moved my lanterns from the living room to the built in seat and left the straw broom there. I love how homey it looks. Then tucked in some tree trimmings. On the window seat I have a collection of holiday trees to grouped them together and curled a ribbon through them. I wanted to add a pop of color since the trees are a natural color on the wood seat so I put a large red tray under them. The lanterns have flameless candles that I turned on for parties it’s nice to have a warm welcome at the front door. I also have a board I painted with chalkboard paint then used an old frame of my grandmothers. I tried using chalk on it but it doesn’t really come clean so I just print out any notes, menus, thank yous etc. and use that putty stuff to stick it on.

The Living Room  

I put the tree where I can see it from the couch and people can see it through the window from the street. I like to use a real tree of course and different sized little white lights. I love vintage style ornaments and actual vintage ornaments. My oldest is a lamb that was my grandmothers it’s from the 1930s. I add new ones every year. I started collecting an ornament each year for my sons when they were born. And I get a new ornament for each of us from Epcot each year. Not every country will have ornaments. United Kingdom I bought a pack of pub coasters and punched holes in them and ran a ribbon through. Mexico I found little tiny sombreros. China I used little key chains that were each of our Chinese Zodiac animals. Canada was easy they had gold maple leaf ornaments and Norway has scan design ornament balls. This year was Africa and they actually had little hand made origami type safari animals.

For the topper I wanted something from nature so I bundled some silk Amaryllis and added bows around them and wrapped it all in ribbon.


Above the mantel I put a garland with ribbon, my red berry topiaries that I put in the pots I usually have on the mantel I just added burlap and satin bows so you couldn’t see the pot sticking up.
Added my Christmas teapot some votives and tree trimmings.

On the side tables and the coffee table… I put large ornaments in the white bowl that’s usually on the coffee table. I put a cool vintage silver tinsel wreath on top of a silver urn and added a birch candle. I put a red berry wreath over the plant in the white bowl I usually have on the desk. And done.

The Dining Room

It was simple – add a couple of poinsettias to an ice tub that is usually empty and set the table with my holiday dishes. Add ribbon, votives (I like to use the flameless kind that will automatically come on each night)
and a few fancy ornaments and you’re done.

The Kitchen

I used jars of candy and cool marshmallows from Williams Sonoma, oranges studded with cloves, the trimmings from the Christmas tree, citrus, holiday towels and napkins, and ribbon. By just tucking a pretty curly ribbon and a vintage holiday towel in the corner it changes the same lamp and sugar bowl into a holiday setting. And the great thing is the tree trimmings are free, the citrus will last all season and then you can throw it away so no storage. The ribbon is cheap and can be rolled up to use again. Utilize your napkins and holiday dishes instead of buying a decoration just use what you already have that sits in a drawer all season. If you have people coming over put apple cider with mulling spices in a Dutch oven and let is simmer on low the whole time. It makes your house smell like the holidays.

The Family Room

Garland over the mantle with ribbon, flameless candles, and stockings. My old man Christmas (a nod to Oden the king of the elves) a poinsettia, and a pinecone in a pot my son made for me 22 years ago. (every now and then they actually make cool stuff. If you want to give someone a gift from your small child this one is pretty cute. Using a glue gun add Spanish moss to the opening of a small clay pot, then glue small little shinny balls in the petals of the pine cone and glue the pine cone to the moss. Done. You could white wash the pot and tie a pretty burlap or satin wide bow around it but plain is nice too). I used my round metal tray and filled it with like colored ornaments (mine are greens golds and browns) then nestled 3 live mini pine trees in burlap sacks amongst them (Magnolia Company).

Lots of simple ideas, nothing too fancy, but very warm and cozy.
That was the plan. 

Tea Time at the Grand Floridian

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Better late then never. I should have posted this before the holidays were over but I just didn’t have time. The good news is you can go anytime and it’s still awesome. Mother’s Day is another favorite of mine.

But every year we go to the Grand Floridian Hotel at Walt Disney World to have Afternoon Tea for Christmas. It’s really nice all year long but it’s especially nice at Christmas time. They have a 5 story beautiful Christmas tree

and a life size gingerbread house that they sell gingerbread from.

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If you do want to go at Christmas time book your reservations 180 days ahead. That’s the earliest Disney will let you book. So I have it in my calendar in July to make the reservation. And make it for more people then you think. The max is 6. You can always reduce it later but getting a bigger table later is almost impossible.

Click here to make a reservation.

Some more really beautiful Christmas decorations

ok with that said… the rest of the year the Garden View Tea Room at the Grand Floridian is still a lovely place to have Afternoon Tea.

The waitresses are dressed in Victorian English outfits, everything is served on English china with all the extras – honey, lemon, cream, clotted cream and home made jams for the scones, and tea cozies.

They have dozens of different types of teas. Something new they’ve started is offering seasonal teas. For example during the holidays one of the 3 seasonal teas was a gingerbread spiced tea.

They have several different options for food. The one we always get is the Buckingham. It has tea sandwiches and a sweet onion tart, seasonal scones with seasonal fruit butter, jam, and clotted cream, strawberry tart, and a choice of strawberries and cream, a trifle, or fancy pastries.

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starting with the tart in the front and going clockwise –
Sweet onion tart (my favorite), egg salad, roasted golden beet, cucumber and watercress, roasted tomato, and in the middle curried chicken salad

It doesn’t look like that much but by the time you eat the sandwiches, the scone, the strawberry tart, and drink a whole pot of tea you’re almost too full for dessert. I almost always take mine home.

The other menu items include a Gentlemen’s tea which has pates and cheeses and a children’s Mrs. Potts Tea which has chocolate milk instead of tea and pb&j and ham and cheese for the sandwiches. There are usually a couple of tables with kids there so bring them! Even the boys. Both my sons love having tea.

They also have a cheese plate that used to be on the menu but isn’t on there anymore but you can still order it.

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Just in case you don’t think you’ll be full.

When we go during the holidays we usually get dressed up (no hats – unless you’re a red hat lady). But there will be everything from people who are taking a break from the theme parks so they are dressed in shorts and t-shirts to a bunch of grown women wearing tiaras to people dressed up. Just dress the way you want to dress.

Some other great places to have tea in our area

The Tropical Tea Room and Wine Bar
in The Shoppes at Rivertown Antique Mall – downtown DeLand

The Ritz Carlton


Yuletide Baskets

2012 Xmas Baskets - Jars

The beautiful picture above and all those below were taken by my awesome daughter-in-law. Follow her blog at and on Etsy.

Buying presents for people for the holidays is really hard. I really really believe it’s the thought that counts. When someone takes time to pick out something you love. That they have listened to your ideas and what you like long enough to find something you like. Not something they like. That’s easy and really kind of pointless. If you want to buy something you like then buy it for yourself. Don’t pretend you were thinking of the other person when you bought it. Price isn’t the point either. A really cool $15 multi-colored skull bracelet or super gingery ginger-ale in cool bottles are way more me than diamond earrings. So I try really hard to think of the person I”m buying or making for. Sometimes its easy – a young couple setting up a house for the first time – they need lots of things. But when you’ve been around for 40 or 50 years you kind of have enough stuff. You know.

So I made baskets.

I picked themes I thought each person would like but kept it reasonable. I can sometimes go crazy with details than stress myself out. Well maybe more than sometimes.

So I made a plan.

Wrote down my list of basket recipients then started to list items I thought they would like. I started with making sure each basket had a bread, a cookie, a jam, etc. then tried to use similar ingredients in different ways to keep the cost under control. I made the freezeable items a week ahead the jams a few days ahead and the fresh items then night before (keep those to a minimum you will always have a crap load of stuff to do at the last-minute so don’t over load yourself)

Once the list is done and the grocery list is done. Start saving old jam jars, pesto jars, cool spaghetti sauce jars, really any kind of container you use. If it’s cool remove the label, use goo gone to remove the sticky mess under the label. Run it through the dishwasher to sterilize it then you’re good to go. But keep in mind you have to refrigerate what you make, you can’t re-seal reused jars.

Then assemble baskets, ribbon, swatches of fabric, and tags. You can make your own tags from cool Xmas cards. Buy them after the holidays on sale then cut the front off the card and cut it to form a tag. Add ribbon. Go to a craft store like Micheals and get rolls of real ribbon not the plasticy kind you curl on packages. Real ribbon makes a huge difference and they have every pattern and color you can imagine. Micheals also has cool packaging containers. Little paper cups to hold truffles or cellophane to wrap the whole basket in.

Now make your stuff. Jar it, wrap it, put a ribbon on it. Hand it over with a big smile.

So back to the point… Yuletide Baskets. Here’s what I made.

2012 Xmas Baskets - Italian

 Italian Basket

Clockwise starting at the star

Apricot and Rosemary Tapenade
2 cups apricots
1 large bunch rosemary
salt and pepper
1 clove garlic
2 tablespoons champagne vinegar
Olive oil

Put the apricots, rosemary, and garlic in a food processor and process until very small pieces. Add the vinegar, salt and pepper to taste. Add enough olive oil to bind it all. Fill 2 jars, cover, and refrigerate.

 Marinated mozzarella with peppers and pink pepper berries
3-4 medium fresh mozzarella balls
1 bay leaf
1/2 tablespoon fresh oregano leaves
1 red bird’s-eye chili pepper; sliced in half
zest from 1 lemon
1/2 teaspoon fennel seeds
1 clove of garlic, peeled and halved
1 teaspoon pink pepper berries
Extra virgin olive oil

Combine all in a large jar. Keep refrigerated.

 Italian quick bread with prosciutto, parmesan, and Italian herbs
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon sugar
1 1/2 to 2 teaspoons cracked black pepper
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
2 eggs; lightly beaten
1 – 8oz carton plain low-fat yogurt
1/2 cup canola oil
1/4 cup milk
2 tablespoons Italian herb mix
1/2 cup shredded parmesan cheese
1/2 cup shredded mozzarella
4 very thinly sliced pieces of prosciutto

Preheat the oven to 350; grease a loaf pan. Combine the flour, sugar, black pepper, baking powder, baking soda, and Italian herbs in a bowl and make a well in the middle. Combine the eggs, yogurt, oil, and milk; add to the dry ingredients and stir until just moistened. Stir in the parmesan, mozzarella, and prosciutto. Add to the pan, drizzle the top with olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Bake for 45-50 minutes until lightly golden.

I don’t make bread – I don’t have the patience to wait for the yeast to rise then knead it and all that. I love this bread because you just mix it and bake it and can change the ingredients to any kind of theme. 

 Bellini jam with peaches and Prosecco
1 cup sugar
1 cup finely chopped, peeled ripe peaches
1/4 cup Prosecco
1 teaspoon lemon juice
1/8 of a 6oz package of liquid fruit pectin

Combine sugar, peaches, Prosecco, and lemon juice in a medium pan. Bring to a boil, stirring constantly until the sugar dissolves. Quickly stir in the pectin and return to boil for 1 minute. Remove from heat, skim off foam. Add to jar and refrigerate.

 Cranberry and Pistachio Biscotti
Recipe from – I didn’t dip them in the white chocolate.

(the spices are from Spice and Tea Exchange)

Southwestern Basket

Clockwise from the star on the right

Southwestern quick bread with cheddar and jalapeno
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon sugar
1 1/2 to 2 teaspoons cracked black pepper
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
2 eggs; lightly beaten
1 – 8oz carton plain low-fat yogurt
1/2 cup canola oil
1/4 cup milk
1/2 cup shredded cheddar cheese
1 jalapeno finely chopped and seeds removed

Preheat the oven to 350; grease a loaf pan. Combine the flour, sugar, black pepper, salt, baking powder, and baking soda, in a bowl and make a well in the middle. Combine the eggs, yogurt, oil, and milk; add to the dry ingredients and stir until just moistened. Stir in the cheddar and jalapeno. Add to the pan, drizzle the top with melted butter and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Bake for 45-50 minutes until lightly golden.

 Candies jalapeno with blackberries
8 jalapeno; most seeds removed (more seeds more spicy) and chopped
2 cups sugar
1 green apple; shredded
juice and zest of 1 lime
1 cup blackberries

Combine the jalapeno, sugar, apple, and lime juice in a medium pan and simmer on medium until the jalapeno start to break down. Add the blackberries and cook until a thin jam consistency. Fill and jar and refrigerate. This is great on cream cheese with crackers or with chicken or on sandwiches.

 Coconut and lime macaroons
14 oz. can sweetened condensed milk
14 oz bag of coconut; shredded
2 extra-large egg whites; at room temperature
1 teaspoon vanilla
pinch of salt
zest from 1 lime
15 dried cranberries (soak in warm water to reconstitute)

Heat oven to 325 and line a baking sheet with a silpat or parchment paper. Combine the condensed milk, coconut, vanilla, and zest. Whip the eggs and salt until medium peaks form; fold into the milk mixture. Drop teaspoon sized cookies onto the baking sheet and top each with a cranberry. Bake for 20-25 minutes until golden brown. Allow to cool then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.

(the chocolate is dark chocolate with chili – the spices are from Spice and Tea Exchange)

Southern Basket

clockwise from star

Brown sugar chocolate chip cookies
2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
2 sticks softened unsalted butter
1 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup white sugar
2 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 bag Ghirardelli bittersweet chocolate chips

Heat oven to 375 and line a cookie sheet with a silpat or grease. Combine the flour, baking soda, and salt and set aside. In a stand mixer combine the butter, brown sugar, and sugar. Blend until light and fluffy. Beat in the eggs and vanilla. Slowly add the flour mixture. Using a spoon stir in the chocolate chips. Drop onto the cookie sheet and bake for 12 minutes until lightly browned. Let cool 1 minute then transfer to rack to cool completely.

I learned how to bake from my grandmother Pat “memaw”. She made the nestle toll house cookies from the recipe on the bag. Over the years I’ve messed with it until it came out just the way I like it. The brown sugar gives it a richer flavor. The butter also adds more flavor than the original Crisco. Sometimes I add instant espresso powder (or turkish ground espresso) or cinnamon.

Southern quick bread with cheddar, bacon, and caramelized onion

2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon sugar
1 1/2 to 2 teaspoons cracked black pepper
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
2 eggs; lightly beaten
1 – 8oz carton plain low-fat yogurt
1/2 cup canola oil
1/4 cup milk
1/2 cup shredded cheddar cheese
4 slices of crisp cooked bacon; chopped
1/2 cup of caramelized onions (chopped then cooked over low heat until golden)

Preheat the oven to 350; grease a loaf pan. Combine the flour, sugar, black pepper, baking powder, and baking soda, in a bowl and make a well in the middle. Combine the eggs, yogurt, oil, and milk; add to the dry ingredients and stir until just moistened. Stir in the cheddar, bacon, and onion. Add to the pan, drizzle the top with melted butter and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Bake for 45-50 minutes until lightly golden.

Dill and pink pepper berry pickled cucumber, carrots, and peppers

2 cups apple cider vinegar
3 teaspoons pickling salt
8 garlic cloves; peeled
1 teaspoon red pepper flakes
4 teaspoons dill seed
2 teaspoons pink pepper berries
2 teaspoon black peppercorns
4 pickle sized cucumbers (I like the english minis); sliced in quarters
8 baby carrots with the tops on; sliced in half lengthwise
8 mini bell peppers in various colors; sliced in half lengthwise

Combine the vinegar, 2 cups water, pickling salt in a pot and boil. Divide the garlic, red pepper flakes, dill seed, pink pepper berries, and black peppercorns among 4 jars. Divide the cucumbers, carrots, and bell peppers among the jars. Allow the brine to cool slightly then pour over each jar until almost full. Cover and refrigerate.

Tomato and onion jam

5 plum tomatoes; diced
1/4 cup Vidalia onion; finely chopped
2 cloves garlic; minced
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup apple cider vinegar
1/4 cup roasted red peppers; drained and chopped

Combine all the ingredients in a sauce pan. Bring to a boil then reduce heat and simmer for 30 minutes or until the liquid is reduced to a syrup. Allow to cool completely then fill 4 jars and refrigerate.

Pimento cheese with bacon and onion

2 cups shredded cheddar cheese
2 cups shredded Monterey jack cheese
1 – 8 oz block of cream cheese
1/2 onion; grated
4 slices of crisp bacon; chopped
1 teaspoon hot sauce
salt and pepper

Combine all the ingredients in a bowl until well blended. If it’s too thick add a little non-fat greek yogurt to thin. Put in 2 jars and refrigerate.

(the spices are from Spice and Tea Exchange – the jar with the tag is local honey)

English Basket

We have afternoon tea every holiday at The Grand Floridian’s Gardenview Tea Room in Walt Disney World. My grandmother, “Rana” had tea in the afternoons it was simple heated sweet tea in a mug and captain wafers with sliced cheddar cheese. Nothing fancy but so awesome. I really miss her. My mom and I really love tea so this was part of a bigger basket. Most of it was purchased. Teas, candies, lemon curd, etc. Here’s what I made…

Cranberry orange scones
3 cups all-purpose flour
1/3 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
2 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
3/4 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 sticks of unsalted butter; cold and cut into small pieces
1 1/4 cups buttermilk
1 teaspoon vanilla
zest of 1 orange
1 cup fresh cranberries; chopped
heavy cream and sugar

Heat oven to 400 and line the cookie sheet with a silpat. Combine the flour, sugar, baking soda, baking powder, and salt. Cut the butter into the flour. Add the cranberries and orange zest. Add the vanilla and buttermilk. Mix with your hands until blended. Pat onto a floured surface and shape into a long rectangular log. Cut into triangles and place on the cookie sheet. Brush with cream and sprinkle with sugar. Bake for 12 minutes or until golden brown. Makes 12 scones.

Sugar plums 
1 1/4 cups almonds; toasted
1 1/2 cups dried plums (prunes)
1 1/2 cups dried apricots
3 tablespoons honey
1 teaspoon orange zest
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground anise
1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
Coarse sanding sugar

Combine the almonds, plums, apricots, honey, orange zest, cinnamon, anise, and nutmeg in a food processor and process until a sticky ball forms. Make walnut sizes balls and roll in the coarse sugar. Store in an airtight container for up to 1 week. Makes 20 balls.

These are so cool. Everyone’s heard of sugar plums but have you ever made them or even eaten them? Love the idea of such a traditional sweet for Yule.

Here are the spices from Spice and Tea Exchange…