Friday, May 31, 2013

The Classics


Is there anything more classic than an LL Bean tote bag?
I thought not.
My new one (with monogram, of course!) arrived just in time for the weekend. I foresee it stuffed with beach towels and magazines every Saturday from here on out.

Happy Weekending!

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Sunday Seafood ~ Spicy Steamed Cockles


Some of the greatest meals come from spotting a single ingredient.
I wasn't quite sure what I was going to make for dinner Sunday night and headed to my local fish market for some inspiration. When I walked through the door and saw that they had cockles, the age old question "What's for dinner?" was instantly answered. Happening upon a fresh delivery of cockles is like being a small child on Christmas morning who has just seen the mountain of gifts beneath the tree. The excitement and the anticipation of enjoying each and every one of these savory little creatures is one of life's simple pleasures that I look forward to each summer.

After a quick stop at the butcher for some sweet sausages, I headed home and ordered the husband to fire up the charcoal. I remembered a perfect recipe for Spicy Steamed Clams I once saw from Williams Sonoma. After some quick Internet searching, I baked a loaf of garlic bread for sopping up all the excess sauce. This meal was a mind blower and will no doubt be on heavy rotation this summer.


Spicy Steamed Clams

4 tbsp unsalted butter
1/4 cup olive oil
1 yellow onion, halved and thinly sliced
1/2 tsp of red pepper flakes - I used a dash to control the heat
Salt, to taste
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 can (16 oz) whole plum tomatoes, with juice - I buy Pomo tomatoes in the carton (better than canned) and used the Chopped tomato one
1 cup dry white wine
2-3 lb. small clams, such as littleneck or Manila, scrubbed - I used just over a pound of cockles
1/2 cup slivered fresh basil

*I cooked the entire meal in a cast iron pan on my charcoal grill but otherwise followed the recipe exactly*
In a stockpot over medium-high heat, melt the butter with the olive oil. Add the onion and red pepper flakes, season with salt and saute until the onion is translucent, about 10 minutes. Add the garlic and saute until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add the tomatoes and their juice and cook, stirring, to blend the flavors, for 2 minutes more.
Increase the heat to high and stir in the wine. Add the clams, discarding any that do not close to the touch. Cover and cook, shaking the pan occasionally, until the clams open, 4 to 5 minutes. Discard any empty shells or unopened clams. Divide the clams among serving bowls, top with the broth, sprinkle with the basil and serve immediately. Serves 4.


Monday, May 27, 2013

Sangria


Mother Nature decided she wasn't into my idea of a beach barbeque on Saturday night so she dropped the temperature about 40 degrees and sent rain and blustery winds our way all day Friday and Saturday. Not the best way to kick off a holiday weekend. Luckily, our friends said "weather be damned" and invited us over to their lovely home for a Spanish inspired meal.
The meal and the appetizers alone deserve their own post. My girlfriend Maria is a great cook and puts out these delicious munchies. She takes the typical cheese and crackers to a whole other level serving olives and meats alongside them. I could stuff myself silly on the starters alone. In fact, yesterday at the grocery store I found myself throwing some meats and even some Mediteranean olives into my shopping cart because I couldn't get them out of my head.
The other thing I couldn't stop thinking about was the Sangria she served. I don't mind Sangria, but I have never had one that left me inspired to make it myself or even think of it as a viable drink option. This Sangria has totally changed my mind. After I made my husband take a sip of my drink he told me I needed to get this recipe from Maria. No need to worry honey, I had already planned on it.  
I recreated it yesterday doubling the recipe (don't judge) and it was just as good. I didn't use all the fruits in the recipe, I took a cue from my girlfriend and sliced up apples and threw in whole raspberries alongside the lemon slices. Eating the liquor soaked fruit after enjoying your drink just adds to the whole experience.

White Zinfandel Sangria
from epicurious.com

1 750-ml bottle of chilled White Zinfandel
1/2 cup peach schnapps
2 tbsp Cointreau or other orange liqueur
2 tbsp sugar
2 cinnamon sticks, broken in half
1 lemon, sliced
1 orange, sliced
1 peach, sliced into wedges
1 10 ounce bottle of chilled club soda
Ice cubes

Mix the first 8 ingredients in a tall pitcher. Refrigerate at least 30 minutes to allow flavors to blend. Mix in club soda. Fill 6 wineglasses (or oversized iced tea glasses like I do) with ice cubes. Pour sangria over ice and serve.


Friday, May 24, 2013

'Merica



This morning I attended a Memorial Day concert at my daughter's school. We said the Pledge of Allegiance and sang the National Anthem both of which I haven't sang/said in a very long time. As I stood there facing the flag, saying those words, I thought about our forefathers and their intentions for this great land of ours. It made me proud to think of how powerful and moving the words are behind the Pledge of Allegiance and our National Anthem and sad when I think of how deluded they have become.
I'll spare you all my thoughts on that because what I really felt compelled to write was this:
I love you America.
I love everything you've stood for these past few hundred years and am grateful to the visionaries that made this a place my ancestors wanted to come to. I'm grateful to the men and women who risk their lives everyday to keep our nation what it is.
We're far from perfect and Lord knows we have our issues, but at the end of the day, I'm happy to call this place my home.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Beach BBQ

Ship Ahoy

A majority of my favorite childhood memories revolve around Ship Ahoy Beach Club in Sea Bright, NJ. My grandparents were members there from the time my mother was a child until my own son was a small toddler.
Lunches were made early in the mornings, packed into the cooler and off we would head to spend the day swimming in the pool, splashing in the ocean and if we were really lucky there would be a few dollars to spend up at the snack bar. Those frozen Milky Way bars and french fries were my all time favorites.

Vintage Ship Ahoy

But the best days at Ship Ahoy? Well, those had to be the days we were there all day and then cooked dinner in the sand and lingered until long after sunset. There was one 4th of July I will never forget when we arrived to the club shortly after dawn with boxes of donuts and bagels in tow. The beach was empty and I have never seen the Atlantic Ocean so still. We stayed all day and way into the night; children still playing in the sand while the adults sipped cocktails and shared laughs. I was raised a beach baby and still love it to this day.

Image via Pinterest


 While my Ship Ahoy days are just distant memories now, I am lucky enough to have a state park beach just minutes from my home. There are guarded bathing beaches there but there are also unguarded beaches that you can drive your vehicles on, have bonfires and that little bit of serene bliss you don't always find on the Jersey Shore.
With a four day weekend ahead of us (can I get a hallelujah?) I thought it would be ingenius to head over to Island Beach late Saturday afternoon and bbq with some dear friends of ours. We have a little portable Weber grill so making some homemade burgers and grilling sausages sound like absolute perfection. The guys can fish or throw a ball around and my girlfriend and I can just relax with our toes in the sand.


1. Weber Smokey Joe 2. C. Wonder picnic basket 3. beach blanket via Pinterest 4. picnic basket from Williams Sonoma 5. Embroidered gauze Top from JCrew  ~ I bought it in white too ~ love, love, love it! 6. Lola t-strap sandal 7. Zip ankle legging
Of course much of the food will be packed into the cooler, but I think a picnic basket is definitely the way to carry all the other dining essentials. The one I own I very similar to the C. Wonder one pictured, but what about this canvas lined one with the double handles from Williams Sonoma? I die...I truly do....
It's supposed to be a bit on the chilly side, so I think my new embroidered gauze top from JCrew would be perfect with my skinny ankle jeans. And these leather sandals from Banana Republic would make the walk from the parking lot much more enjoyable.
I can't forget the trusty old beach blanket, and when I saw this blue and white striped one I thought I might not even want to risk getting it dirty. Hello gorgeous!

What are your favorite beach memories?

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Setting the Summer Table


We entertain all year long, but when summer comes around ~ boy, do we love to have people over! It's rarely fine china dining, I love serving a seafood feast and using that morning's newspaper as my table covering. There's nothing better than making homemade burgers and handcut fries and serving them in small plastic baskets with wax paper liners. Summer entertaining should be easy breezy with minimal fuss.
While I strive to keep it simple, I do love to add a little touch of nautical to my summer table like my starfish napkin rings and woven placemats. But I said little touch. I love me some nautical; just leave out the overly "kitsch" and "over the top".
When I spotted these mini wooden buoys at my garden center this weekend I knew they would make perfect napkin rings. At under $2 a piece I couldn't resist.


With gorgeous chambray napkins or even a set of pretty stripe dishtowels that can do double duty, I forsee these guys getting a lot of use in the next three months.

How do you set your summer table?

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Summer Refresh

Last fall I threw away my summer duvet and shams while switching out to my fall/winter set. It had to have been about 7-8 years old, the twilight of life for a duvet in a household with two kids and two dogs (one of whom sleeps in the bed every night and the other who tries to sleep there when no one is looking!).
I had in mind a bold printed duvet in black and white and was inspired when I first saw this Nate Berkus set at Target:

Nate Berkus Nepal Chevron

 I thought this set could be just the right graphic "pop" for my blue/gray bedroom. It reminded me a bit of an Ikat print, my favorite summer print of all time. With my coral red nightstands, this could be absolute perfection.
The bedding was on sale at Target this past week and when I went in to purchase it I stood in front of the shelf dumbstruck. It suddenly didn't look like Ikat to me anymore. It looked very "tribal" and not at all suited to my taste. You may remember from my kitchen adventures how I sometimes dream outside my box but always end up coming back to my comfort zone. This set was definitely outside my comfort zone.
While I was standing there, I noticed another Nate berkus set:


Nate Berkus Diamond Checker set in navy blue

I started thinking that navy blue was definitely within my comfort zone and maybe that was the color palette to go with. Just like in the kitchen. I left Target empty handed and spent the whole week googling navy blue bedding sets from all the usual suspects, Pottery Barn, Crate and Barrel, West Elm etc. etc. and still nothing. Then yesterday I found myself back at Target staring at the set once again and wondering if I could love it. I knew I had some perfect floral pillows in navy with pops of coral in the print that would go.
I decided what the hell ~ I can always return it if I hate it right?



I don't hate it at all.
In fact, I adore it.
I picked up the small woven accent pillow at Target too and the whole set up has me swooning.
A sweet girlfriend of mine had given me two silver Kate Spade frames as a gift and I was waiting to figure out the perfect place to put them. It didn't take long to figure out the nightstands were that perfect place.


Later in the afternoon I stole these oversized stripe pillows from the family room and threw them behind the others. Perfection! The bed looks complete and my bedroom has that summer feel I was longing for.
And 11 pillows on the bed?
Why, of course ~ is there really such a thing as too many pillows?

Saturday, May 18, 2013

Today


It's a pretty powerful thing to know that we completely control how our day will go ~ not letting the little things become bigger than they should be or missing those wonderful little moments we often take for granted.
This is my motto for today.
And tomorrow.
Because making today amazing lies in my hands.

Happy Weekending Everyone!

Monday, May 13, 2013

This Wonderful Life

Mother's Day 2013

A few days ago my daughter told me that she had our Mother's Day all planned out. I remember hearing: "and we'll spend 3 hours at the mall" when I silently groaned inside. My job has me traveling to malls all over New York & NJ every day. Trust me, it's the last place I want to go on my day off. Then it dawned on me what she was talking about. She wanted us to "redo" the Mother's Day we had together in 2010. Daddy had been busy refinishing the garage floor with her grandpop that year, so we ladies had jumped in the car and headed to the mall. We spent the afternoon trying on lipglosses at Chanel, stopping at Starbucks, and buying some candles and soaps. We had had a blast that day and it was a Mother's Day I will never forget.

Us in 2010 ~ you can even relive that day with us here

While I inwardly groaned at the thought of the mall, I reminded myself that sometimes things are less about me and more about the people around me. So I agreed to her plan. She was thrilled. Off we headed yesterday afternoon to the same mall where we once again stopped at Starbucks, bought some soaps and candles but instead of lipglosses at Chanel, we did a little clothing shopping for my best girl. We even took the same picture of us in the car. As she carried her shopping bags to the car to head home she was fretting that she had gotten quite a few things and I had bought nothing for myself. It was then I realized that when things are less about you, the more others long to make it about you.
I'm grateful for another amazing day in this wonderful life.

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Motherhood





It really doesn't seem possible that my two babies are so grown up. It seems like just yesterday that they were small, helpless and snuggled in my arms. Those amazing, early moments seem so far off now that I find myself wondering if they really happened at all.
One is officially an adult and beginning to navigate the world on his own while the other grows leaps and bounds daily. They need me less and less as the days pass, but I find myself worrying about them more and more.
This world is cruel sometimes and I pray that I have prepared them to face it. I wish I could keep them here at home forever where I can keep watch over them. Where I can be there to wipe away their tears when life disappoints them and reassure them that everything will be ok.
Sometimes I think motherhood was easier when they were little and innocent and I could shield them from the ugly things they need not see. I realize now that my job will never be done ~ it just changes. My role in their lives is constantly redefined as they grow older although my heart will always long to hold them in my arms safe and sound.

Happy Mother's Day to you and yours!

Sunday, May 5, 2013

Cinco de Mayo

fiesta

salsa fresca and black bean & corn dip

my version of a margarita ~ frozen limeade and rum slushies

ole!

a specially curated mustache for the occasion

chicken pineapple tacos

Saturday night we threw our annual Cinco de Mayo bash.
I look forward to it all year long ~ it's truly one of my favorite days to party. From planning my menu to adding festive touches around the house, the whole process is filled with anticipation of kicking back with dear ones and eating our body weight in tacos and chips.

This year's menu looked like this:
Black bean & corn dip
Salsa Fresca
homemade Queso
Grilled Chicken & Pineapple tacos
Beef tacos
and Mexican Hot Dogs

Mexican Hot Dogs?
I made them a few years ago after finding a recipe online. They are derived from Mexican street food and have been wildly popular each time I've served them. Essentially, it's a hot dog wrapped in bacon, pan fried, then topped with pinto beans, cheese, salsa, mustard, mayo and ketchup and any other thing the heart desires. If it sounds like a heart attack in a bun that's probably because it is. The menfolk love them and even the women partook. We had a blast.
Is there anything more fun than good food and even better friends?
I thought not.

I hope your weekend was full of love and laughter.



Friday, May 3, 2013

Sunday Suppers

I've mentioned it before, but meal planning is the key to smooth running weeknights in this household. When I am figuring out what dinners will look like for the next 7 days, I try to stick to easy to prepare meals because I never know what my day will look like and when I might actually make it home. Unless well thought out, those weeknight meals can be a real drag for not only myself, but the family. The weekends are our time to really splash out and make more complicated dishes and enjoy the entire cooking process.My favorite weekend/weeknight plans come from making a big Sunday supper that feeds us well into the week.

This past week I planned on cooking Sunday and Monday night only, then sailing through the rest of the week on reinvented leftovers and two other quick meals. Let me quickly interject that my husband hates leftovers. However, reinvented into a different dish is another story.  So this was the plan:

Sunday - Meatballs, Sausage and Spaghetti w/ Garlic bread
(I had leftover garden salad from a dinner party Saturday night that we had w/ it)
Monday - Chicken Cutlets w/ rice and veggies
Tuesday - Pancakes and Bacon
Wednesday - Meatball Hoagies w/ chips
Thursday - Chicken salads w/ Garlic bread croutons
(I save the leftover garlic bread slices, toast them back up and cube them. Adds a bunch of flavor and no waste!)
Friday - Homemade Pizza night!

I had noticed we had multiple boxes of pancake mix on hand and I knew we had two packages of bacon in the refrigerator, thus our breakfast for dinner night. I try hard to make sure we "eat down the pantry" each month so nothing gets lost behind something else and goes to waste. Besides, what kids don't love breakfast for dinner?

My shopping list was pretty simple:

And of course, there's some pantry staples that are necessary too.

I have to say, the week has gone off without a hitch. Dinners have been easy on me to get on the table and everyone has enjoyed each meal.



How do you pull off weeknight meals?

Thursday, May 2, 2013

The Best Of: April

After a seemingly endless winter, April began with signs that spring might actually arrive.

I spent the first week of the month home recuperating from surgery.

And celebrated Charlie's birthday. (I love this guy.)

We met him in Red Bank NJ one Friday night for dinner and a little retail therapy.
These two.....

I was busily trying to book our family vacation for July to our favorite state.

I organized more than just my wardrobe, I've been cleaning out closets all over the house!

I've been reading like crazy and finished out the month rereading this classic before the movie comes out.

We shared meals with loved ones.

And took a ton of bike rides.

Perhaps the best thing to happen in April was the arrival of my nephew, Timothy Daniel on April 18th.
Isn't he a cutie?
I can't wait to visit my sister and her sweet family so I can spoil him with crazy Auntie love.

How was your April?