Thursday, December 30, 2010

ZOMG it's a squirrel!

Seriously, that was my EXACT reaction when I saw this little critter:

I'm not even a squirrel fan.  I don't know how to explain it.  It might be due to the oversized tail.  It's quite fabulous.

I also liked these new West Elm items:

And that canopy bed did make me say OMG a little bit.  It could be a condender if my current bed ever finally breaks...

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

to custard or not to custard

I love dinner parties.  I love scouring the internet and poring through cookbooks to come up with the perfect menu that is both easy and impressive.  And holiday dinner parties are even better.  More special.  More glittery.  But holiday dinners are my mom's domain - she's the matriarch of the family so holidays are always celebrated at her house.  I was raised Unitarian Universalist and while we celebrate Christmas, Christmas Eve was always an afterthought.  We don't go to church, we don't have gobs of family to visit, we open presents in the morning, the big dinner with roasted meat is on Christmas Day.  Christmas Eve was for reading 'Twas The Night Before Christmas and that's about it.  So I created an event out of Christmas Eve dinner as something to do - and as a reason for me to be in control of a holiday dinner.  What can I say?  I like being hostess.

I have my menu all planned out.  Brie & crackers to start (probably heated up with pears and/or almonds on top, though not en croute).  Crab & spinach lasagna, roasted Brussels sprouts and a green salad for dinner.  And a pear tart tatin with vanilla ice cream for dessert.

And that's where the custard dilemma comes in.

I have an ice cream maker.  My sister got it for me for Christmas a few years ago and I love it to death, but have only made ice cream once.  I hate making custards and apparently I didn't have everything cold enough because it froze up too hard (though still tasted great).  But I have this ice cream maker!  I should use it!

So I did some research.  If I chill the base properly and let it age in the fridge for 24 hours, it should mix up properly and not become a brick.  If I serve it after freezing for just a few hours, it should be fine either way (though my leftovers will possibly still be rock-hard).  If I add some gelatin or anywhere from a teaspoon to a tablespoon of vodka, it should help it stay scoopable.

But there's still the problem of having to make a custard.  Then I found this recipe from Williams Sonoma (I always have luck with their recipes).  Philadelphia-style ice cream made without eggs.  Oooooooooh.

After more research, I learned that this is how Breyer's Natural Vanilla (the type with the bean specks) is made.  And my sister and my mom really like Breyer's.  But I like Ben & Jerry's and Haagen Dazs better, both of which are made with eggs (and thus probably a custard). 

I don't know what my brother-in-law prefers so am going to assume he's like my niece and would be happy with either.

So should I make the Philadelphia-style ice cream?  Or should I buy a custard-based (or French-style) one?

Making my own ice cream will have to start tonight with freezing the machine and all that.  It will be one more thing for me to do on Christmas Eve day (though really, I could prep the lasagna the night before).  Buying a pint would be a heck of a lot easier and probably will taste better, but it won't be as rewarding.  But I'm often too ambitious and end up running late when entertaining.  Would be nice to be able to not have to spend the whole day cooking.  Or rearrange my freezer to make room for the machine.

I can't decide.  I'm going grocery shopping tonight and will decide on the fly.

Monday, December 20, 2010

my sister's Christmas tree

I love my sister's Christmas tree.  She just put it up this weekend and it's so very pretty.  She put pictures up on her blog, but I think this tree needs to be spread across the internet even more - it's definitely the best one I've seen.

I think my favorite part is the shape of the tree itself.  They went with a fir instead of spruce and it just has a more natural tree shape.  More like something you'd find in real life instead of on a Christmas tree farm.

Alison and I picked our holiday colors years and years ago.  She is blue and silver, I'm red and gold.  As we started collecting our tree decorations, we both mostly kept to these colors and it makes for a coordinated, but not overly perfect tree.  On her tree, there are different shades of blue, brushed and polished silver, and coordinating colors of lime and purple.  It makes for a nice base so the childhood, handmade and gift ornaments stand out - not like sore thumbs, but like special additions.  It's a tree with a giving heart that can accomodate the new and the old, the pretty and the tacky.

These shortest days of the year need extra sparkle.  Putting up lights, shiny ornaments, garlands and trees add a different energy to your house and make everything just a little bit magical. 

Thursday, December 16, 2010

The M Project: couch options

I did some searching for a good sectional and found these options:

I like this couch a lot.  I like the boxiness of it and it's really comfortable.  I've sat on it in the stores and it's cushy, but not overly huge.  The seat is high enough so you can sit and stand easily and it's not too deep. 

I would pick either this great red or charcoal velvet.  The red is bright and fun and would be a great splash of color.  I also think that red can be used as a neutral.  But with the charcoal, then the walls could be painted a pretty blue and the curtains could be a mix of grays, blues and plums... 

This is actually the same as the Pottery Barn Square.  Since we have a Mitchell Gold store here on 14th St, it basically comes down to which one is cheaper.  When I went to MG, they had so many fabric options. 

Obviously we wouldn't get this exact set-up!  The arms on this couch are a little more graceful, though I think the cushions are a little deeper than I normally like.  Of course, maybe M & J love a deep couch?

This couch is great.  It's not too big, it's square but not as boxy as the first two.  The only problem is that it's only available to the trade - and I'm not trade.  But many designers are happy to help out with to-the-trade purchases.

These arms are even more streamlined and the legs are a little longer.  Showing furniture's legs can be good to keep a room airy, but if you have too many legs in a room, it just seems like it's all going to run away.  I think M's living room could handle a couch with or without visible legs.

The M Project: plan for the living room

I went to M's house Tuesday evening and she's right - it is a difficult space to decorate.  It's a really cute house, but small.  You walk in the house and are immediately in the living room, which is a skinny rectangle.  To the left is the powder room, a sliver of wall and then the stairs going up.  Then there's a doorway to the eat-in kitchen and a wall with an opening between the two rooms.  The kitchen is a nice size with enough space for a 6-person table.

It has clearly been a bachelor pad.  The walls are still depressing builder-beige.  The ceiling fans are wicker-ish.  The faucet in the powder room requires force to fully shut it off.  The kitchen cabinets have weird porcelin hardware.  And the living room furniture is overstuffed black leather.  Cliche and a half.

I could redo everything.

* paint EVERYTHING.  All walls, all ceilings.  Banish the ugly beige, even if it's just replaced with a prettier shade of beige.
* new furniture in the living room - a sectional, a more streamlined (yet still comfy) chair, new coffee table, new TV stand (well, maybe), curtains, blinds
* storage unit in the kitchen.  New hardware for the cabinets.  (If I were really getting imaginative, I'd paint the cabinets and buy new appliances.)
* new light fixtures above the sink
* new faucets in the kitchen and powder room
* new mirror in the powder room

But the living room is the biggest issue.  It's the room you see when you first enter the house.  The current set-up has the back of the couch creating a hallway upon entry.  I totally get why they have it this way, but it's not good.  You are funnelled straight back to the kitchen or upstairs.  It's like the room doesn't want you to stay and visit.  You have to force yourself inside.

But you can't have the couch along the long wall because then there's nowhere to put the TV.  And J. said that he loves being able to watch TV while washing dishes.  I totally understand this!

What I finally ended up with was putting the couch along the short wall, under the opening to the kitchen.  Then the TV would go on the opposite wall, over in the corner.  Hang some curtains to cover the window just a bit to mask the fact that the TV would then cover part of the window. And replace the couch with a sectional.  It will give more seating for entertaining and one person can spread out on the L like it's a chaise.  Perfect for hanging out and watching movies.  Then replace the black leather chair with something like a streamlined club chair, preferably one that reclines and swivels. 

It's not perfect, but I think it will be good.  It will make the room warm and cozy and definitely more welcoming.

Friday, December 10, 2010

turquoise everywhere!

Well, everywhere in the December issue of Lonny.  Three separate houses all had turquoise living rooms and they are all gorgeous. 

Lulu Power's living room is very close to the color of mine:

Eileen Kathryn Boyd's is what I originally had in my head - lots and lots of white and a good sprinkling of grass green:

But I think Angele Parlange's is what I actually need to do.  Lately I've been really drawn to the colors in the antique quilt, the taupes and dark purples.  Plus it would be a lot easier to blend in the furniture I already have as well as Salvation Army pieces.  And isn't this just so cozy yet elegant?   I love it!

The article on her house made me want to gather up all the unused portraits in my mom's basement and hang them up everywhere.  Even the scary and unattractive ones.

Pantone declared turquoise the color of 2010, but I haven't seen it used so much until now.  Guess it took a full year for everyone to catch up?  Though I would like to point out that I painted my living room turquoise way back in 2009.

2011's color is honeysuckle, an orange-y pink that is very bright and happy.  Andvery similar to the accents in Angele Parlange's living room.  Hmmmmmm - think I may be on to something!

Thursday, December 9, 2010

this weekend...

This weekend I will reorganize my kitchen.  This may or may not involve a trip to Home Depot to buy slide-out shelves for my lower cabinets that tend to be The Place Where Things Go To Die.  Seriously - I thought I lost a potholder, bought a new one, then found the lost one when I pulled out a pitcher for my holiday happy hour.  Not to mention that I had my big stainless steel mixing bowl perched precariously on top of said pitcher and somehow the potholder ended up underneath it.  Huh? 

And this is just the tiny cabinet next to the stove.  The one over on the right (where I store my fry pans, saucepans, muffin tins, cake pans, stock pots and collanders), well, lately I've just tossed items in there and hope the doors will stay shut.  It's a mess and makes me cranky.  Luckily I can remember what's in there because just opening the doors wouldn't help out a stranger in my kitchen. 

And then above my cabinets is very useful for storing even more crap, but it's incredibly unattractive.  Lately I've been dreaming about rigging a curtain up there to hide everything.  And I'm definitely not ruling that out, though I think it might look goofy.

I feel the need to just pull everything out and reorganize. Maybe I should keep useful items in the little cabinet above the oven and put those once-a-year items in the scary cabinet on the right. Maybe it's time to take down the white board and put up more shelves. Or hang a pot rack. Or a real cabinet so things won't get dusty. Though that last one might be beyond what I can accomplish this weekend.

But I can at least reorganize and get things in tidy piles again.

Note to my sister: the quesadilla maker will be moing on.  I loved it so much when you gave it to me and got a lot of use out of it, but haven't used it in several years.  George Foreman and the cocktail shaker I've never used are also hitting the bricks so it's nothing personal.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

The M Project: one more gray room

This is the living and dining rooms of Alaina Kaczmarski, author of Live Creating Yourself.  Why I completely forgot about her lovely gray apartment before, I have no idea.  But she recently posted a picture that shows her living room going into her dining room and I thought it was a great piece of inspiration for the M Project since her house all flows together. 

Though for M, I think I would do a blue based rug and some purple and red throw pillows and the art would be framed in something other than white.  Not sure yet, but next week I should have a better idea because I am going to be at her house for mah jongg so will be able to get a good lay of the land, maybe move some furniture around....  I'm so excited!

mad about plaid

I got a hankering yesterday for a plaid tablecloth.  Maybe it's the Tommy Hilfiger commercial where they thrown down plaid blanets?  The idea just seems so cozy.  And I want something that really looks like a trapper blanket.  The type you might keep in your trunk in case your car breaks down.  Just not as thick. I think a real blanket would make glasses a little wobbly.

Side note: I'm surprised that LL Bean doesn't carry the trapper blankets anymore.  To me, they always seemed like a standard of the company.  What's next?  Get rid of the Boat & Tote bags?  Duck boots?

But I'm finding that non-Christmasy plaid tablecloths aren't really available.  I did find this one from Trader's and Company and it's pretty close to what was in my head, but I really was hoping for options.

And while they say that this red and black one is available in 54x90, I can't find it on the site.  The whole point of online shopping is to not have to talk to a human, right?  But I do love the very blanket-ness of this plaid.

So while originally this post was going to have all sorts of sources for plaid tablecloths, instead it's grumblings about why there isn't more plaid in the world.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

The M Project: gallery walls

I love gallery walls.  I think they're great for filling up that big expanse above your couch or for drawing attention to a little nook.  And you don't need big, important pieces of art - small ones are great.  A mix of sizes is great.  You can be neat and orderly with similar prints in matching frames, be really eclectic with different mediums and a wide variety of frames or something in the middle.  Maybe similar frames but not exactly the same.  Not a completely random set-up, but not overly symmetrical. 

What I also love about a gallery wall is that they can evolve over time.  Maybe you only have 3-5 pictures now.  But then you're at Eastern Market and see a lovely little watercolor.  You're at Pottery Barn and they have a pretty little salad plate.  You take a pottery class and put your vase on a tiny floating shelf.  Your best friend took a gorgeous picture while the two of you are on vacation so you blow it up and have it framed.  Your grandmother hands down a silk scarf that's too threadbare to wear but still ridiculously lovely.  Eventually you end up with a wall full of special items and your gallery wall had turned into a memory wall.  What can be better than that?

Or maybe you have a few large mirrors.  Or a collection of salvaged items (or, like in one picture below, a bunch of plaster medallions).  A gallery wall doesn't have to pictures at all.

When I did mine, I found it useful to clear out everything from the middle of the room and lay out everything on the floor.  I moved the pieces around and pulled stuff from other rooms until I had a good set-up.  Then I took pictures of it all and did a rough sketch so I could remember what went where since I had to stack everything up so I could move the couch and get my ladder near the wall.

Supplies are important.  I used a laser level since I wanted certain pieces to line up - but not necessarily ones right next to each other.  A pencil with a good eraser so I could mark spots - and erase and change them.  A hammer and nails.  Picture hooks for the heavier pieces.  A ruler or measuring tape so you can space things out evenly.  I did 3" in between my pictures, but wish I had made the space only 2".  But you have to figure out what's right for your room.  Generallybetween 1-3" is good.

And patience.  Patience might be the most important supply.  Make sure you have a lot of it!  I had to rehang almost every piece 3-4 times, even with my laser level, measuring tape and gobs of pencil marks.  So frustrating, but so worth it in the end.

The M Project: gray rooms

Gray rooms can be very pretty - almost dainty - with lots of white trim and furniture and crystal accets.  But they can also be warm and eclectic.  I have to say, I like the eclectic route a lot better.  This first picture is definitely my favorite.
Decor Pad
Decor Pad
Decor Pad
 Elle Decor

Find more pictures at Decor Pad and Houzz.

The M Project

So last night, one of the women I play mah jongg with asked me for help with what color to paint her house.  She just moved in with her boyfriend and is eager to make the house their home.  They're so cute together, I just love it.

We talked about going with colors that look well on you (she's a beautiful Winter - dark hair and pale skin with just a hint of olive to it with big, welcoming features so jewel tones, like royal blue, jade green, magenta, purple would all be great), or with ones that don't but that make you ridiculously happy (for her, this could be something like orange).  We talked about why I hate accent walls and that I'm anti-wallpaper borders but pro-wallpaper.  I gave her the name of a few blogs to check out and told her to start collecting pictures of rooms she likes.

I haven't seen her house, but she said that it's a townhouse and the living room is pretty open to the rest of the house so if she were to paint all walls, she'd have to also paint the stairway and a hallway or two.  And that she's planning on moving in a year or two.  Both of which made me realize that a bold color would not be right.  But maybe something like a pretty gray?  Not too dark so she wouldn't necessarily have to repaint to get it ready to sell, but not so light that it's an afterthought.  And it would be a great neutral for jewel toned pillows and art.

So I decided to put together a bunch of images that get across what's going on in my head and am going to put them in a series of posts so they're easy to send.  And thus begins the M Project!

Monday, December 6, 2010

cooking with leftovers

I had a TON of leftovers after my party and I always hate just reheating things.  For the first meal or two, it's fine, but then I get bored and usually end up letting it all go bad.  Not terribly economical.

So I decided to be thrifty.  After everyone left my house, I still had gobs of egg nog and gobs of toasted bread.  So I decided to turn it into French toast.

My favorite cookbook is Perfect Party Food by Diane Phillips.  She has EVERYTHING in there and all are able to be made ahead.  (I think my only complaint is that she's too light on salt, but since I now know this, I can easily adjust.)  She has a recipe for do-ahead French toast that's almost more like bread pudding - you mix everything up, let it sit in the fridge overnight and bake in the morning.  And she includes a little note that it can be made with leftover egg nog instead of cream.  Now, she doesn't recommend using overly crusty bread because it soaks up all the liquid and can become chewy, but I figured that I could just add some more liquid in the morning.  Did I mention that I have gobs of nog?

It turned out great.  Just as boozy as it was in beverage form, but then the next time I make this eggnog I plan on cutting back the alcohol even more anyway.  And it would be great with non-alcoholic nog as well!

So that was recipe #1.  I killed all of the toasted bread, a good amount of the eggnog and "left" the unopened can of whipped cream at my sister's.  Fab.  Making progress.

Recipe #2 was dinner.  I was sitting on the couch trying to get inspired to heat up some more of the BBQ pork but it just wasn't working.  I was really tempted to order a pizza, but I have SO much food in my fridge.  Then I remembered the box of whole wheat pasta I bought when doing my party grocery shopping.  I had even put it on my list.  No clue why - I already had a box of linguine in the house, but I just HAD to also have some rotini.  Now I know why because my dinner was insanely good.

From the fridge, I pulled out a clump of garlic, a medium red onion, salami, blue cheese, arugula and sliced almonds.  I put several tablespoons of olive oil to heat and chopped up the garlic and onion.  Four cloves of garlic, which is a lot, but I didn't want to put anything back in the fridge.  I also put the water on for the pasta.  After the oil heated up, I tossed in the garlic.  After a few seconds, the onion went in as well.  I turned down the heat and let it just hang out while the pasta water came to a boil.  Pasta then went in the water and I added a heck of a lot of herbes de provence and a shake or two of red pepper flakes and some salt.  When the pasta was done, I drained it and dumped it in a bowl with the salami and arugula then poured the hot oil on top.  Then I added a Tbsp-ish of red wine vinegar and crumbed in the blue cheese and the almonds.

And OMG it was divine.  Hot pasta salad.  Highly recommend.  It made enough for dinner as well as three generous lunches so I'm all set for this week!  Next up will be trying to figure out a creative use for leftover BBQ...

And with that, I'm off to eat some more pasta salad!

my holiday happy hour

This past weekend was my Annualish Holiday Happy Hour.  I skipped one year and reserve the right to skip one in the future, but I do love hosting this party.  It's always the first Saturday in December and it's officially a happy hour so that I'm not competing with other parties (though if you want to stay until midnight, I won't complain).  I want e'ryone at my house!

It's also a great reason to make sure my house is decorated early and well.  I even string lights outside around my deck and along my clothesline.

Possibly my favorite part of the decorations, even though it's so cold that you can't really experience it.  I do keep the lights up year-round and the clotheslines ones didn't die over the summer!  The ones on the deck did, but were easy to replace since the thumbtacks were still in place.

I do a spread of heavy appetizers, changing up the menu each year.  This year it was mini pulled-pork BBQ sandwiches, toasted baguette slices with cheeses and meat, crudite with dill dip and a big bowl of peppermint Oreos.  Then beverages are wine, beer, homemade eggnog and something non-alcoholic but still festive.  I kinda loved my non-alcoholic beverage choice this year that I made totally on the fly so am going to share with you!

Cranberry Punch
Light Cranberry Cocktail
1 1/2 cups water
1 1/2 cups granulated Splenda
Diet Gingerale

Pour the cranberry cocktail into a pitcher.  Heat up the water and stir in the Splenda until combined.  Add to the cranberry cocktail and taste.  Should be a little too sweet.  If it's not sweet enough, heat up some more water, add some more Splenda.  Right before serving, add the gingerale.

So freaking easy.  I heated up the water to help the Splenda dissolve.  You could easily use sugar instead, but in addition to one pregnant lady, I also had at least one hardcore dieter. 

For my eggnog, this year I went raw.  I usually make cooked eggnog, but I HATE HATE HATE making the custard.  Did I express my dislike for this process enough?  HATE HATE HATE.  I always overcook it and either end up with chunky nog or strain it and end up with overly boozy nog.  Plus it just takes freaking forever.  Raw nog?  So easy.  My new favorite.  This recipe is pretty good, though I think it calls for too much alcohol.  I skipped the brandy and did just two cups of rum and let it sit overnight, but it was still crazy strong.  I think maybe doing 1 1/2 cups would be perfect.  Next time.

I forgot to take pictures of the inside of my house, but the set-up was pretty much the same as last year.  I did, however, take a picture of my groaning fridge:

I would say that 95% of this was stuff intended for the party.  Craziness.  Especially since about 1/4 of the folks who RSVP'd yes ended up not being able to make it last minute or had to leave early. 

But it was a good party full of special people and it made me so happy that I have this tradition of opening my house to my friends!

Thursday, December 2, 2010

note to self

Note to self: measure the area between the Christmas tree and the doorway

The only good space to put a Christmas tree is to the left of the faux-closet.  Last year it was fine because I was using the narrow-ish chest of drawers as a TV stand.  I don't even think I had to move it to set up the tree.

Super easy.

This year, I have a wider set-up for the TV and even pushing it all the way to the left, there still wasn't room for my slim-line tree so I took out one of the bookcases.  And it's fine, but it's not great.

Sorry. No picture of the tree yet. That'll be coming next week.  In the meantime, check out this picture of my adorable niece playing with the stuff in my bookcase - how adorable is her little striped tee?  And see my birdcage - love!  Need something to balance it on the other side...

Anyway.  So I'm back to still trying to figure out what to do for a TV stand.  I want a console table so I can tuck a footstool or two underneath - you know, one day in the future when I find ones with x-bases hidden in the corner of Salvation Army.  But as I'm highly confident that I'll find them, I'm building my room around them.

My dream console comes from Jonathan Adler.  White laquer, solid, simple, gorgeous.

And also $995.  Yeah, can't afford that.  But cheaper options are usually longer and that's not going to work in the space.  And then with my tree issue this year, I realized that I need to find something that would accomodate the tree.  It's only once a year, but I leave my tree up for a good month.  Actually, more like 5-6 weeks since I put it up the weekend after Thanksgiving and often can't get around to taking it down until a few days after New Year's. 

And then today I was virtually roaming through Ikea and came across the Expedit console table again and somehow, it didn't really seem that ugly anymore.  To make the solitary bookcase work, I had to rip part of the backing down so I could put the DTV box and DVD player on the first shelf and I really like not having them on top anymore.  The Expedit has a shelf and I could drill holes for the cords.  Hmmmm...

The black-brown is rather dark for me:

But then the birch effect just seems so wrong:

I mean, really?  At least on my computer monitor, that just screams fake wood.  I can't handle that.  Why can't they offer it in white to go with the rest of the series?  And then it would be SO much closer to my dream console.

But then maybe I could get the lighter color and paint it white.  Hmmmmmmmmmmm...

Anyway, all of this is the long way of reminding myself that I need to measure the space between the tree and the doorway to see if there's enough room for the Expedit console.  And if there is, to go to Ikea and check it out in person.  See just how ugly the birch is or how dark the black-brown is and if either seem not-horrible to paint.

Update: Forgot that I took a picture with my phone!  Blurry and poor-quality, but here's my tree and current TV stand set-up: