Thursday, September 29, 2011

some of my go-to recipes

The other day I brought dinner to a sick coworker. I debated on what to bring - apparently he's been getting a lot of pasta and also needs something hearty to help him regain weight. I also heard rumors that other folks in his household might be lactose-intolerant. To top it all off, I needed something that would reheat nicely since I needed to bring it into work with me. So what to make?

I ended up going with a bit of a Moroccan feast with a slow-cooker chicken tagine as my entree. I've made this recipe at least a half a dozen times and always have leftover so I know it's reheating capabilities. Bonus is that it's made with hearty chicken thighs and is pasta- and dairy-free. Of course, then I paired it with couscous (tiny pasta) and made a fig compote to go on top of ice cream (dairy) for dessert, but hey - at least the bulk of the meal was right! I also bought some hummos and pita for an appetizer. A three-course meal for a fabulous person going through a really tough time and it took me about 45 minutes on-hand time to make (prep + packaging it up for transport, actual cooking time was about 2 1/2 hours, but I was able to do other things during that time). Not too shabby. And unless he's lying to me, it was a hit.

So then I was thinking about it - what are some of my other go-to recipes? And why don't I share them with the world all in one post? I love recipes. I'll reread my cookbooks over and over again, imagining the possibilities. Some recipes I make so often I don't even need to reference the cookbook - or I've adapted them enough that they don't bear much resemblance to the original and thus referencing wouldn't do any good anyway. Others, like the tagine, I adapt slightly, but overall am pretty faithful to the recipe. And that's okay with me. I don't feel the need to muck around with a recipe if I trust the source. My creativity is expressed in what I pair with the dish and to whom and how I serve it.

I don't normally do jumps, but this is going to be a long one. So here are the recipes you'll find after the jump:

Chicken tagine in a slow-cooker
Spinach pie
Warm pasta salad
Salmon with tomato relish
World's Best brownies (my title, not my recipe)
Rosemary sweet potatoes
Red wine vinegar chicken sautee

Friday, September 9, 2011

Guestroom ideas: the ideal guestroom

What's the ideal guestroom? Well, I actually don't think there is One Perfect Guestroom. So much depends on the personality of the homeowner and of the house.

I do admit that I like it when a guestroom is a little different from the rest of the house. Like if the house is bright and colorful, the guestroom is soft and soothing.

If the house is all about neutrals, the guestroom could be floor-to-ceiling wallpaper.

Or shocking pink.

Or maybe you want the guestroom to be the showplace of the house, the place where you perfect the lovely combination of grays and creams you have going on in the rest of the place. Why not? It's your house. Just because I tell you to be different doesn't mean you have to be.

Guestrooms tucked into the eaves can be especially comforting. A room-as-quilt sort of thing. These always make me think of Anne of Green Gables and Anne getting so excited over Aunt Josephine's spare room. Why do you think I call MY guestroom the spare room?

Guestrooms are also the perfect place to try out that slightly scary design idea you saw on Apartment Therapy or Design*Sponge. Much like powder rooms, one doesn't spend a lot of time there so you can go a little crazy. Like painting the walls deepest navy or even black. It's very dramatic but also quite cozy.

Or be like Martha and paint all of the furniture in the room the same shade. I kinda really love this.

I'll always remember the spread where she painted all the furniture in her Turkey Hill guestroom black. And the result was surprisingly restful and cheery since everything else was light (also love the darker trim!). Bonus is that it all could be cheapo thrift store finds with the scratches sanded down and the not-so-great wood hidden under the paint. It doesn't look matchy-matchy because each piece is a different style.

And if you often have singles or kids staying over, why not have two twin beds instead of a queen or full? They can be pushed up against the walls since only one person has to get out of the bed and they can also share a single nightstand for more room. And you know, a couple can deal with not sleeping in the same bed for a night or two. They might even relish not having to share the blankets!

I know I've been lax about getting pictures of the spare room in my house on here. Seems like every time I get the room somewhat presentable, I go on a trip or start a project and that room becomes a glorified storeroom again. But it is a lovely little room with cucumber-green walls (I won't listen to anyone who calls them sage!), my childhood bed, a big bookcase full of books and the loveliest Northern light. It's very different from the rest of my house and makes me completely happy.

What's your guestroom like? Or what do you wish it were like?

All pictures (except Martha's) from Pinterest Are you following me there yet? You should. I pin some fantabulous stuff.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Guestroom ideas: supplies

My friend, Melissa, asked me for some blogs for inspiration for her guest room. I, of course, ran with it and decided to add her to my blog. I don’t expect her to follow my advice, but it’s fun for me to try to decorate a room with her sensibilities in mind.

I’ll get to the actual decorating in a day or so, but this morning I had some ideas on what would be good additions to a guest room.

Several sealed bottles of water

I adore those chic glass decanters with a glass-as-topper, but that requires one to fill the decanter before a guest arrives – and to check in to see if it needs to be refilled during the visit. Sorry, we’re not running a B&B here. A single bottle of water on each nightstand would be lovely, but even better is a whole tray of them. Then your guest doesn’t have to ration the supply. He knows he can grab one on his way out for the day and there will still be plenty to drink at night. And you don’t have to think about replenishing during his stay.

Normally I am not one to promote use of bottled water, but in certain circumstances they are incredibly useful. You can still encourage use of your filtered water system (or not filtered, depending on your disposition and water supply) in the rest of the house. But one doesn’t always remember to bring a bathrobe, or even decent nightclothes, and this way your guest doesn’t have to pad down the hall in his skivvies to refill a glass of water.

I’m envisioning these on a pretty lacquered tray on top of the dresser, all neat and in a row. 

But a basket would be nice, too. Wire or wicker. They could stand up in a long breadbasket or be jumbled purposefully in a taller one. What about an antique ice bucket? An oversized terracotta pot painted a jaunty color? Your imagination is your only limit.

An array of used books

How often have you traveled to someone’s house only to realize you forgot your book? Or finished the one you brought earlier than expected? So you borrow one from your host only to find out that she detests dog-eared pages and bent spines – after you took it into the tub with you. Ack. Or you only get halfway through Rebecca and end up buying another copy at the airport for 3x what you would pay for a book that’s so easily found at a used bookstore because you MUST FINISH IT NOW. Why not spare your guest these (admittedly minor) problems?

Have a small bookcase or floating shelf full of books you bought at yard sales, your local library’s sale or at Salvation Army. Books that only cost you a dollar or two so you won’t mind if they get trashed or taken home. Have a variety of books – classics, mysteries, poetry, and some potboilers in case your guest doesn’t feel like thinking too much. Whatever looks interesting to you or you think might be interesting to your guests. Maybe add a little note (framed?) saying that they should feel free to take a book home if they haven’t finished it.

The bonus to books rather than magazines is that they don’t have to be updated before a visit. Because, again, no B&B here!

Somewhere to sit other than the bed

Ideally this would be a chaise or chair & ottoman with a sturdy end table & reading lamp to make the room a true retreat. 

But there often isn’t room, so maybe a smaller upholstered chair (sans ottoman) or even one of your extra dining chairs with a cushion on top that matches the linens in this room (so it’s not so obviously a spare).

A bench at the end of the bed is another option –it wouldn’t be a reading spot, but could be a good resting spot and also serves as somewhere for your guests to put their luggage as they unpack. Some folks are iffy about putting luggage right on the bed (and you might be one of them). 

Of course, a luggage rack is the obvious choice, but a person can’t sit on it. However, if you have space for a chair elsewhere in the room, twin luggage racks at the end of the bed is a really nice look, much like these twin benches.

Fresh linens

I read recently in Martha Stewart Living that one should change sheets in a spare room every two weeks.  If you frequently have guests – or frequently have spur-of-the-moment guests, this is a terrific idea. If your guests are more seldom, you could just make the bed right before they arrive (though do wash them every so often so they aren’t musty), but sometimes it’s nice to have an extra made bed available for you. What if your partner is sick and coughing all night long and you need a respite? With clean sheets on the guest bed, you can escape to it at 2pm (or banish your partner – I don’t judge).  How much would it suck to have tried to tough it out for a few hours only to then have to make the bed? If you knew there were clean sheets, you may not have toughed it out at all. See? It’s not really about your guests; it’s all about you :)

I like the idea of leaving towels folded on the bed all wrapped in a bow (an idea I also got from Martha), but have found it can be confusing. What may be better is to have them at the ready in the linen closet and when you’re showing your guests to their room, you can pull them out and hand them in a neat pile. At the same time, you can mention that they can grab any other towels that will be necessary and by the way, this is where we keep the aspirin and Band-Aids. Figure out the method that works best for your household, but do remember to actually give your guests towels – don’t leave them floundering after their shower!

An ideal set-up would be one bath sheet, one bath towel, one hand towel and one washcloth per person. Some women like to use a separate towel for their hair and everyone loves extra large and extra fluffy towels. 

Lots of space for clothes

I know, I know, it's hard to keep the guestroom closet empty. All that wasted space! And in my 800 square foot home, it's just not possible So delegate half of the closet to your guests - and make it a very obvious half. Have lots of hangers for both shirts and pants and have them match, please. Nothing says leftovers more than mismatched hangers. My favorites are black velvet flocked and I buy them at Marshall's. Think they're usually $10 for 12. No need to get fancy and spend hundreds on wood and padded hangers (though feel free to do so!).

No closet at all? If you have the space, an armoire would be tres romantic. Buy one at a thrift store that originally was for TVs and add a rod. Line the inside with some pretty paper or paint it a gorgeous color. 

If your spare room is also the smallest, as most spare rooms are, put up a few hook on the back of the door and hang some flocked hangers from it. This might be the time to spend the cash on the really nice wood hangers since they’re visible at all times (and are easier to dust than velvet).

Then you also need some drawers. A small dresser with maybe three drawers and a mirror above is good.  I’m a fan of the Hemnes chest from Ikea. It’s small, inexpensive and you can slide some pretty paper under the glass on top. 
Thrift stores can also be great places to find a small chest of drawers and if it’s beat up, you can always paint it. Or decorate the room around it. The whole Belgian/Danish style of decorating is practically centered on weathered wood furniture (see the latest Restoration Hardware catalog for examples).

If you have room for a large dresser, then you can leave just a few drawers open for your guests and hog the rest for yourself. If you’re doing this, leave the top drawers empty since that’s the ones your guests will open first. If they have to go through three drawers of out-of-season sweaters before finding the sad one at the bottom that’s free, well, that’s not very welcoming, is it?

While we’re on the subject, keep that dresser clear so your guest can put out his items. It’s one thing to have the tissue box and some other essentials there and another to have it littered with knick-knacks and tchotchkes and vases and stacks of art books. Sure they’re pretty and make for a blog-worthy vignette, but clear it all off before you actually have someone stay there!

Extra blankets and pillows

This summer I stayed at my friend’s in-law’s condo in Florida (follow that?) and in their guest room, they had lots of extra blankets and pillows in the closet. I was able to swap out the too-soft pillows on the bed for firmer ones and to exchange the duvet for a more moderate blanket since it was always warm in there at night. It made for a very comfortable weekend.

Give your guests some options. If you don’t have room for these options in the closet, tuck a storage box under the bed (and point out its existence). Or layer the bed. Have sheets + blanket + bedspread and then fold a duvet at the end. 

Or sheets + duvet with a quilt or afghan folded at the end. Play around with the layers – it’s also a great way to add color into the room. 

Have different firmness of pillows in the shams vs. cases. It’s also a good idea to have all of your pillows be synthetic. Those will allergies will thank you and those without will still have their heads nicely cradled. Again, no need to spend lots on these – Marshall’s, TJ Maxx and other discount stores all have very nice pillows available. Check the labels because pillows are usually machine washable. And if not, they can at least go for a tumble in the dryer to shake off the dust.

Other essentials

Every bedroom needs a box of tissues and a wastebasket. I prefer the wastebasket be lined with a bag so your guest doesn’t have to worry about what he puts in there.

An iron & board is a nice touch, but that’ll take up even more of your closet space. If you have the room, include it. If not, let your guest know where you store yours. And remember to empty the water reservoir before you store it.

Bonus items

Collect trial sizes of shampoo, conditioner, shaving cream, toothpaste, etc. and have them out in a basket. Cotton swabs and cotton balls are useful in the bedroom as well as the bathroom, especially if the bathroom is shared. Store these in pretty canisters or boxes right on the dresser.

Buy a few extra toothbrushes and a box of floss. Maybe some single-use razors, men’s and women’s. If your guest room has its own bathroom, fill the medicine cabinet with pain relievers, bandages and cough drops. Keep a box of tampons under the sink – even if you are a single man with only male friends and relatives, what if one of those men brings his wife or girlfriend?

Fancy hotels often have plush bathrobes and while I’m still chanting the not-a-B&B mantra, I’m definitely not opposed to stealing some hotel ideas, especially if they’re as good as this one. Hang two XL robes, or even XXL. Just as it’s extra cozy to wrap a humongous robe around oneself, it’s extra sucky to have it not meet in the middle. No need for them to be white, either. If they’re the same color story as the linens and towels for this room, they can all be tossed in the wash together after your guest leaves.


Overall, just think about what YOU would like in a guest room. Don’t make everything too twee or too fancy because you want your guest to be comfortable in the room, not worrying about how he wrinkled the sheets by sleeping on them.

All pictures (except the IKEA dresser) from Pinterest and I have even more pictures pinned there!