Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Weekend in the Hudson River Valley

Every summer our family gathers for a weekend at my brother Tom and his wife Stacey's beautiful farmhouse in the Hudson River Valley of New York. Nestled in a bucolic country setting, their home was originally the barn of an estate and was converted to a home in the 1940's. As you can expect, it exudes charm and character; from the crown molding and chair rail to the stone hitching post and water trough by the front door. 
The quiet is a welcome respite from our busy suburban lives. The serenity of their rolling acre of lush, green grass and the shimmering, crystal clear pool definitely soothes the soul. I look forward to it all year long because it's a weekend spent unwinding, relaxing and catching up with the ones we treasure most. That, to me, is worth more than any fancy, five star getaway.

Monday, July 13, 2015

A Quick & Easy Summer Hostess Gift

As I was leafing through a magazine a week or two ago I saw a feature about berry bowls and colanders and this adorable little white ceramic one caught my attention immediately. Usually these product features are chock full of high end, high price pieces so you can imagine my surprise to see that it was from Target! And under $20! And dishwasher safe!
Win ~ Win ~ Win!
Naturally I ran right to Target and snatched one up. Pretty enough to stay on the counter top and perfect for storing fresh fruit since it affords plenty of air circulation, I initially intended to be selfish and keep it for myself. Then I remembered that we were going away this past weekend to visit my brother and sister in law at their gorgeous farmhouse in the Hudson River Valley of New York.
Since it is blueberry season right now in NJ, it only made sense to fill the colander with fresh, Jersey blueberries. Blueberries are one of the best parts of summer! Then I made a simple little tag with a fun play on words because I simply could not resist.
I like to bring a hostess gift, especially when the hostess truly goes out of her way to make your stay fun and comfortable. My sister in law Stacey goes above and beyond always ensuring we have a wonderful time.
I really like this idea. Not only is it practical and sweet, at under $20 for the entire gift it is affordable and a great way to highlight fresh, seasonal produce. You can be sure I will be picking one up for myself on my next trip to Target. How could I not?

See last year's hostess gift ideas here.

Thursday, July 9, 2015

Summer Drinking ~ The Blackberry Basil Bourbon Smash

It's been a while hasn't it?
Life is all sorts of crazy right now ~ crazy good, crazy stressful, and even crazy exciting ~ but all in a very good way. Unfortunately, I cannot expand on that right now (boo!) so instead I come offering a cocktail that celebrates some of my favorite things about summer. 
Nothing warms my heart like finding freshly picked berries at the farmer's market, having bowls full of ripe fruit sitting on my kitchen counters, or seeing a bumper crop of herbs growing in the garden. In fact, this year our basil has grown to epic proportions. There are basil leaves out there as big as my hand! Giant basil is perfect for a delicious caprese salad and also for muddling into a refreshing cocktail. 
So let's put those giant basil leaves, and the plump little blackberries littering the farm stands to good use, shall we?

Blackberry Basil Bourbon Smash

Muddle 7 basil leaves (or less if they are as big as your hand), half of a lemon, quartered , with 3 blackberries in a glass. 
Add a tablespoon of simple syrup and 2 oz of bourbon and give it a good stir. Using a strainer, pour it over an old fashioned glass filled with crushed ice. Garnish with basil sprigs and some extra blackberries.

Try saying the name of this drink 5x fast. Better yet, try saying it after knocking back a few of these bad boys!

Monday, April 20, 2015

Monday Musings

Ugh....Monday. The worst six letter word in the whole English language. It seems like we spend the weekend getting all the errands run and the house immaculately clean just to leave on Monday morning and spend minimal time here over the next five days. In my mind, weekends should be three days at a minimum with Monday being the day to kick back relax and enjoy the fruits of your labor. 48 hours is simply not enough time to accomplish all the things we need to do and still find time to relax. But don't worry, as soon as I become Queen of the World or President of the United States, that will be the first law I enact. Actually, that might be the whole platform for my political campaign! I bet it takes out any opponent too.... who's with me???
All kidding aside, we have spent the past few weekends spring cleaning around this joint. I have brought 3 full car loads of stuff to Goodwill and the trunk is currently filled with load #4. Things are feeling more bare and empty and generally wonderful around here. Thus my loathing to leave here this morning. This place just feels good.
Years ago I downloaded the album The Drums by well, The Drums and on that album there is a song called  I Need Fun In My Life. It resonates with me more than you could imagine. While I feel like I have fun and wonderful things going on in my life all the time, there could be more. There could always be more. In the song he sings this:
"Oh, I took walk yesterday all around New York City and I saw something written on a said The Less You Own The More Freedom You Have, the less you own the more freedom you have so I went home and I threw it all away...." There is something so liberating about having less around you. With each car load of things we no longer, or possibly ever needed, I feel lighter. More Free. It's an amazing principle.
I fully recognize that my book and dish collection alone would totally prohibit me from being on the next episode of Tiny House Nation, but I think you see where I am going with this. The less is more theme can still translate in my 2,000 sq. foot home. I need to be thoughtful about any purchases and apply the in/out rule as much as possible. I no longer shop at large scale retailers the way I did 4, 5 years ago for more than essentials because I find there is generally nothing I want from them. When I woke up yesterday and saw that Twitter was ablaze overnight with the release of the Lilly Pulitzer line at Target I got that twinge in my gut that maybe I had missed out on something. When I strolled into my local Target store around 10am to buy hand soap, razors and shaving cream the racks were basically completely bare with a few random women running frantically around trying to grab any piece that was left. It was amusing and sad all at the same time. Amusing because Lilly Pulitzer merchandise is readily available for sale all the time, it's just out of 99% of these women's budgets and sad because consumerism still makes people act like wild animals. Albeit, when I spot that treasure from the corner of my eye in the thrift store I sometimes get a little crazy too. Proof of that right here and here
My point is, I want so much more out of this life and it takes more than stuff to fulfill that need. Unless it is made out of porcelain, bone china, ironstone, or pretty pictures stuffed inside a magnificent hard cover book. Then my needs are met. For a little while anyway ;).

Happy Monday!

Friday, April 10, 2015

Dish Obsessed

When my former husband and I announced that after a 6 year engagement we had finally decided to get married the first thing my mother did before congratulating us was to privately assure me that she was ok with it if I never married him. She had long accepted the fact we were living together unmarried raising our son and deep down must have known that the relationship was doomed from the word "wedding".  The second thing she did was to tell me that as the eldest daughter and the first to get married, I had my choice of the two sets of china she owned. One being the wedding china she and my father registered for and the other being the antique Limoges china she inherited from my paternal great grandmother. Her wedding china, Royal Doulton's English Renaissance, has a sage green and gold scrollwork design around the edges on a crisp, white plate. Very stylish and sophisticated. The Limoges was a pretty, pink chintz like floral that also came with the receipt from purchase from the 1800's as well as a handwritten note from my great grandmother telling the story of how my great great grandfather stayed home from church one Sunday in order to surprise her mother with a dinner table set with gorgeous new china when she arrived home. Amazing. 
I hemmed and hawed over which one to pick; the Royal Doulton pattern being more my "style" but wanting the Limoges for being in love with the rich history that accompanied it. 
I eventually picked the Royal Doulton because at that time in my life I felt like it would be the one I would opt to use more often. Ironically, I feel like that old, chintzy floral would be gracing my table more often these days. Too bad I left it to my younger sister. If I asked her for it do you think she'd yell "No take backs!" like she would when we were kids? Maybe....
 I was always a little sad that my mother's set only had 7 place settings (her wedding guests really should have coordinated the gifting better) and with the aspirations of my younger years wanting to be the next Martha Stewart, incomplete services of china would never do. So Charlie bought me the 8th setting for the first Mother's Day we were dating. An even number of dishes made me feel much, much better and thus was the beginning of my life long love affair with dishes. 
As I roam in and out of thrift stores, I find myself picking up the random, gorgeous plate or even entire services of stunning china. Sometimes I have to stare at them for a few weeks before I can list them in the shop and sometimes I cannot bring myself to list them at all. Sometimes I even find I have unknowingly collected an incredible mix match set and list them as such. Those curated sets always get snatched up immediately because they are just so.damn.special.
On the rare occasion I stumble across a piece so incredible that it leaves me feeling almost shell shocked. Like this unbelievable Limoges plate with the navy and gold border I just bought. I found one. One! (shakes fist at sky) At first I thought I would save it for a mix match set but the more I look at it, the more obsessed I become with finding an entire set. And keeping it for myself. Actually, I will even settle for a few more pieces in this pattern if I can not have a whole set.
From what I can determine, it was made by Haviland around 1887. 1887!!! This pattern, which I feel is so now, was made 128 years ago??? Incredible! Unfortunately, this has also made it almost impossible to find. 

isn't it dreamy?

The point I am trying to make amidst my long winded story telling is this: vintage china never goes out of style. It is also the closest thing in beauty, originality and style to buying fine, artisan made dinnerware like Suite One Studio or Handmade Studio TN.  Two swoon worthy companies turning out exceptional pieces. But maybe artisan made is a little out of your budget. That's where vintage can fill in the gap. Inexpensive, and relatively easy to find,  making vintage fit into your modern day lifestyle is all about the elements you pair it with. 

For instance, I nearly fell over when I discovered this 1980's set of Mikasa's Capistrano dinnerware piled in a crate in my favorite thrift store.

this set is my boho dream come true

Paired with a bohemian crochet tablecloth, chambray napkins stuffed into beaded rings and set on a long, wooden table in the middle of a field would be a Bohemian dream come true. I die, I really do.

Or what about this ancient set of Haviland Limoges?

chippy floral china gets me right in the heart. every.damn.time.

Paired with seersucker linens in a classic, blue stripe is a match made in heaven. If that doesn't evoke visions of Jackie, JFK and preppy, New England waterfront dining I don't know what will. Beautiful!

feathers! i am becoming such a hippie in my old age

Sometimes those little vintage accent plates can be just the touch a table needs. This old Wentworth China salad/dessert plate looks amazing paired with earth tones and rich patterns. This was actually my table setting for our Valentine's Day dinner party. I adore these dishes.

Then there's the set of American made ironstone plates I recently discovered.

this pattern. amazeballs.

There aren't many adjectives to describe how great these are so I will just leave it at that.

There are always pretty glass plates lurking around the thrift stores too:

purple! with fluted edges!

Paired with solid dinner plates, sometimes a colored glass plate is the way to go.

Then there are those times when vintage pairs incredibly with something new and exciting:

another swoon worthy setting if i do say so myself

In early March we were installing a designer collection boutique at work (think major celebrity actress) and one of the props purchased for the jewelry table was one of these Chilewich Dahlia placemats in gold. The instant I saw it I knew it was meant to be on a table with my vintage Noritake Janice dinnerware that features a gold chrysanthemum pattern. I mean, I could see it in my head...they are perfect together. Paired with natural mats and a textured charger, this is the way I intend to entertain this summer.
As long as no one snatches up the dinner plates before I can host that first dinner party!

Do you see the potential in vintage dinnerware? Or does it just look like Grandma's china to you? I could wax poetic on this all day...

Monday, April 6, 2015

Easter Sunday

I clearly have a thing for symmetry if you haven't noticed.

Easter has begun to rival Thanksgiving as my favorite holiday. There is just something about the newness Spring has to offer with it's longer days and the resurgence of a bright and happy color palette. Light and bright seems the way to go these days. As I set the table for Easter brunch on Saturday afternoon I noticed that the shades on our chandelier felt too heavy. So I removed them. The clutter of bottles on our bar cart was too overwhelming. So I pared it down. None of my linens felt right. So I dug around and found two scarves to drape over the table.  I even simplified my floral arrangements and let the beautiful buds speak for themselves.

Doesn't it feel good?
I hope your weekend was filled with light and love!

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Meal Planning and that Magical Thing Called Pinterest

I've been a meal planner ever since I upped and quit a job I hated back in 2011. Without much thought, preparation or planning, basically just walking away from my annual salary; those 5 months at home became a real test of my ability to be frugal and savvy. Something I had never exercised before. Since necessity is the mother of all invention, I found myself planning our meals, recreating leftovers and stretching the dollars spent at the food store as far as we could. Sunday's roast chicken dinner with mashed potatoes became Chicken Pot Pie and Shepherd's Pie later in the week. Leftover pork tenderloin would become pork tacos on another night. This was also the time when we started making our own pizzas on Friday nights instead of ordering take out.
Truth is, aside from constantly stressing that my selfish decision was going to bankrupt our family, those 5 months were some of the most amazing months of my life. And some of those meals were the best we have ever had. We lived large on that teeny, tiny budget. Mostly because for the first time in my adult life I slowed down, took a breath and spent time savoring the moment.
But I digress.
I've been back to work since 2012, yet I continue to meal plan. At this stage, it's the only way I can get a home cooked meal on the table every night of the week. Truthfully, between our work schedules, my daughter's tutoring and my son working full time, I don't often get the meal on the table until 8pm each night but it's home made. Not from a box, not take out, an honest to goodness (mostly) cooked from scratch meal.
How do I do it?
Sure there are nights where I more feel like cooking dinner than jumping out a window, so that's where the planning comes in. Then there are nights when no one feels like eating the planned meal. Now that's annoying. Fortunately, planning a week's worth of meals and shopping to it does afford us the ability to swap days around for those times when my family is a royal pain in my ass about what they have to eat. Then there are the weeks that the whole plan falls apart and we order out or heat up frozen chicken nuggets and make boxed macaroni and cheese. No one is perfect and neither is this life we live so sometimes we just have to go with the flow.
The hardest part is actually planning meals that sound so good we will still want to eat them 5 days later. It's a bit tricky. Everyone tires of the same old, same old so I am constantly on the hunt for new ideas that can be made quickly enough after a long day of work.
Enter Pinterest.
Pinterest has been a great way for me to find and work new recipes into our weekly meal planning. There are some truly epic fails, but lately there have been some fantastic finds. If you follow me on my favorite source of social media, Instagram, you have already seen some of these meals. For a while now I've been toying around with doing posts on some of these recipes I find. Pinterest Fails and may be boring to all of you but worst case scenario is that I've created a little journal to track the ones we have tried.
There are already a few keepers that I have added to our regular meal rotation and last night I found another: Easy 20 Minute Teriyaki Chicken and Broccoli. My family love, love, loves getting Chinese take out and if I can recreate it at home in 20 minutes, all the better. I doubled this recipe since the original only serves 2 and it still came out perfectly. It was easy and delicious and made it to the table at 5 to 8. In this house, that's what I call #winning.

This recipe is super budget friendly. I used a pound of chicken tenderloins but if you wanted to cut the budget further you could cut up boneless, skinless chicken thighs instead. My daughter thought it was too "saucy" but she's 12 and picky so she doesn't count. I, however, thought it was just the right amount of sauce to coat the rice. I also didn't have rice wine vinegar so I substituted with white wine vinegar diluted. Essentially that means that I only used 3 tbsp of the vinegar (remember, I doubled the recipe) and 1 tbsp of water. Worked perfectly with no need to buy an extra ingredient that will get minimal play in the kitchen. 
Savings like that could eventually add up to a new pair of shoes! Or, if you are me, more dishes. It's a problem but acknowledgement is half the battle, right? ;)
Oh, and if you want to follow me on Pinterest you can click the link in the side bar.