We’re enjoying a lovely summer in our little corner of East Tennessee. Lately, it’s not been too hot–which is really nice considering it’s almost the middle of August–in fact, we’ve had fall-like weather almost all month. This lovely weather has really gotten me excited about decorating our home for fall; however, it IS still August so I’m resisting the temptation brought about by these mild, breezy days & cool nights. I shall make myself wait until September before I drag out totes of pumpkins, dried leaves & scarecrows (I’m pinky promising myself).
Anywho…enough with the weather. 🙂
I’ve mentioned this several times before in other posts, but I can’t say this enough — I LOVE, LOVE, LOVE decorating, cooking & hosting gatherings at my home; I always have. I was probably the only twelve year old with a personal subscription to Martha Stewart Living (in fact, I was also probably the only twelve year old that knew who she was). I (with the assistance of my mom & nanny) insisted my childhood bedroom was Victorian-inspired (with antique mahogany furniture, a crystal chandelier, and an array of untouchable antiques. With guidance from my nanny, I baked my first blackberry cobbler at age 5 (with blackberries I picked from a patch behind our house). At 16, my blueberry pie won a local baking contest with a recipe I perfected thanks to my nanny (she taught me how to make perfect pie crust). I loved watching her cook & bake & she loved sharing her kitchen secrets with me.
How does one become so fascinated in decorating and cooking/baking by such at such a young age??? Easy, I had no choice in the matter 🙂 . My mom & nanny are single-handedly responsible for this phenomenon; they are southern women with impeccable taste in decor and food & passed this passion down to me. Each month when my nanny’s copy of Southern Living arrived in the mail, she & I would carefully scrutinize each page together & she always pointed out all the ‘important things‘ I should take from each issue. My mom STILL makes sure I keep an active subscription to Southern Living, because, ‘It’s a household staple’. Even though I’ve tried explaining to her that I find never-ending decorating & cooking inspiration on Pinterest, she insists that ‘every proper southern home should have copies of Southern Living gracing the coffee table’. I totally attribute everything I know about everything to these two phenomenal women. 🙂
A couple of months ago, my nanny celebrated her 86th birthday, and I decided to host an intimate birthday luncheon for her at my home. The guest list was small — only her sisters, daughter & me. I wanted this special day to be as spectacular a birthday celebration as she deserved & I focused on things she loved most–favorite foods, colors & people. One of her absolute favorite flavors is lemon, so lemons became the overarching theme of the party; I used lemons throughout the menu & décor. In addition to lemons, nanny also LOVES flowers, so flowers, lots of flowers, were an absolute must.
I wanted the dining room tablescape to reflect the lemon theme combined with lots of flowers. I also wanted it to be very personal to my nanny, so I decided to add old photos of her & the family from back in the day–I wanted the tablescape to truly celebrate the life of my wonderful nanny. She and my aunts were thrilled to see all the pictures entwined throughout the flowers on the table; this inexpensive & simple touch had a HUGE impact.
The menu was very simple: warm chicken salad (aka my chicken casserole recipe), croissants, strawberry spinach salad with walnuts, Gorgonzola & and honey balsamic vinaigrette, deviled eggs (a southern luncheon staple), fresh summer fruit, lemon cookies, lemon layer cake adorned with candied lemons, sweet tea with lemon slices, fresh-squeezed lemonade (of course) & mini lemon loaves to take home.
***NOTE: I typically focus on only low carb recipes; however, not everything on this particular menu was low carb (my mom & I were the only low carbers in attendance…AND, it was nanny’s 86th birthday party, so I wanted to focus on foods she truly loved). The low carb menu items were: warm chicken salad (aka chicken casserole–I dressed up the name since it was a ‘fancy’ luncheon 😉 ), deviled eggs, sweet tea (sweetened with Splenda) and lemonade (also sweetened with Splenda).
I truly enjoyed creating this celebration for my nanny, mom & aunts; it was certainly a highlight of the summer for me. The day was perfect, not because of the food or décor, but because of the love around the table. Each woman pictured below taught me what it means to steadfastly follow Christ and to be a devoted wife, daughter & mother (can’t wait for that opportunity 😀 ). I soaked up every moment I had with them that day, and I’m already looking forward to spending time with them again soon. 🙂
A few more pictures of our wonderful day together…
If you’re interested in some of my recipes listed/pictured above…
- Click HERE for my warm chicken salad (AKA chicken casserole) recipe — this is low carb
- Chick HERE for my deviled egg recipe — this is low carb
***The following recipe is NOT LOW CARB, proceed with extreme caution 😉
- large egg whites
- 1 1/2 cup whole milk
- 1 tablespoon pure lemon extract
- 3 cups sifted cake flour
- 2 1/3 cups sugar
- 4 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1 cup unsalted butter, room temperature
Buttercream Frosting Ingredients:
- 16 ounces cream cheese, room temperature
- 1 cup unsalted butter, room temperature
- 8 cups powdered sugar, sifted
- 1-3 tablespoons milk
- 1-2 teaspoons lemon flavoring (depending on your taste)
Whipped Cream Cheese Filling Ingredients:
- 1 cup of the buttercream frosting (above)
- 1 cup heavy whipping cream
Candied Lemons Ingredients:
- 14-16 thinly sliced (about 1/4″ thick) lemon
- 1 cup sugar
The Cake How-To:
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease and flour two 8 or 9 cake pans & line with parchment paper (this prevents sticking).
- Whisk eggs whites slightly in a bowl, then add 1/2 cup of milk & lemon extract. Mix well & set aside.
- Using a stand mixer with paddle attachment, add flour, sugar, baking powder & salt — combine well. Next add butter and remaining milk — combine using the lowest speed until just moistened. Slowly increase to medium speed & beat until mixture is light & fluffy (approximately 2 minutes) — be sure to scrape down the sides of the bowl during this process. Then, add the egg white/milk mixture in 3 separate additions — again, be sure to scrape the sides of the bowl during this process. Make sure everything is well combined.
- Pour batter evenly into the prepared baking pans. Bake 30-40 minutes (test with a toothpick — insert the toothpick into the center of each cake & when the toothpick comes out clean, the cakes are done).
- Cool cakes in pans for 10 minutes. Then, turn them out & allow to cool on racks until completely cool.
The Buttercream How-To:
- Using a stand or hand mixer, beat together butter, cream cheese & powdered sugar until everything is creamy & light (begin slowly mixing so powered sugar doesn’t go everywhere, then increase to medium, then medium high speed).
- Add lemon extract & just enough milk until the mixture is spreadable & smooth (start with the smallest amount of milk & increase very slowly — adding too much milk will turn this frosting into a glaze-like consistency very quickly — I cannot stress this enough).
The Whipped Cream Cheese Filling How-To:
- Beat heavy cream with whisk attachment until it begins thickening.
- In spoonful increments, add 1 cup of buttercream frosting while continuously mixing on medium-high speed until soft peaks form. At this point, the filling is good to go.
The Candied Lemons How-To:
- Prepare an ice bath & set aside for later.
- Bring a medium saucepan of water to a boil.
- Remove from heat & add lemon slices. Allow to soften for approximately 1 minute.
- Remove lemon & submerge in ice bath, then drain well.
- Bring 1 cup of water with 1 cup sugar to a boil.
- Once sugar has dissolved completely, reduce heat to low & add lemon slices in a single layer.
- Allow lemon slices to simmer until the rinds become translucent (approximately an hour).
- Remove slices & place on parchment paper. If desired, add crystal sugar sprinkles to the tops of lemon slices. Allow lemon slices to dry (at least an hour).
Cake Assembly How-To:
- Slice the 2 cake layers in half, creating 4 cake layers.
- Place one layer on a plate & top with whipped cream cheese filling.
- Repeat this process with remaining layers.
- Once the layers are in place with whipped filling in the middle, frost the entire cake with the buttercream frosting.
- Place dry candied lemon slices on the top of the cake.
- Be sure to chill for 30 minutes to an hour before serving.
- Store leftover cake in the fridge (cake keeps in the fridge for several days).
If you’re interested in any of the other recipes I mentioned in the post above, let me know & I’ll be happy to share them with you. 🙂