Sweet Dreams Are Made of (Feng) Shui

After taking quite a long time off from the blog to change jobs, get healthy, & get married, I’m finally back. I hope to also blog about several parts of the wedding planning/hosting process but that will come out in bits and pieces down the road.

As for now, I’m focusing on creating a healthy & happy environment for myself & my partner.

I thought I would start in the most important room, the bedroom. It’s said that you spend 1/3 of your life in your bedroom and the more well-balanced it is for sleeping, the better rest you get and the healthier and happier you are when you’re awake.

I thought these were some fun highlights from my research. If you’d like more information, I thought this site was great (despite its lack of chic home decor).

1.  First and foremost, your bed should be in a command position which in a nut shell means that you should always have your back (or in this case a headboard) to a wall and be able to see all entrances at a moment’s glance.  This subconsciously allows your mind to be at ease and rest well. This is also true for your positioning at work or in meetings.

2. Electronics have to go.  Despite our nightly habits, electronics create electromagnetic frequencies that do not allow our minds to completely rest at night (and there is the question of the overall safety of cell phones, iPads etc).  If an alarm clock or phone is needed, it should be placed across the room away from you while you sleep.  This will certainly be the most difficult adjustment for my husband and I as I’m a complete snooze addict while he loves his TV in the morning.  We’ll see how it goes…

3.  If you are share your bed with another (or don’t currently but would like to) they say you should have your bed pulled away from the wall with a side table or night stand on each side to create balance and space for one another (or a welcoming space for the ‘soon-to-be other’).

At the end of the day, they say the bedroom should only be used for two things: sleeping & being intimate.  Any other activity is too distracting and will not allow the mind to rest.

Hope this helps you get a good night’s sleep!

Buona Notte!

The Healthy Paynter

I recently took a brief hiatus in order to focus on my health after a mild surgery which means I haven’t had much time to focus on party planning.

What I did spend most of my time doing was Yoga and an incredible alternative healing called Craniosacral therapy.  It was the most incredible healing experience I have ever had.  If you’re open-minded and have any type of mental or physical ailment (or would simply like a regular ‘adjustment’) I highly recommend giving it a shot.

The best way I could describe in simplest terms is a very mild and subtle massage of one’s spine & head.  When the therapist is right on target it feels like the most satisfying sensation when someone scratches that itch on your back that you can’t reach.

After a mere four sessions the physical issues I was suffering from subsided.  My therapist explained that the ailment may have stemmed from an emotional issue that I had been holding onto since childhood that was triggered by someone at work.  It was truly remarkable.

My description may seem a bit extreme for some and all may not have the same type of experience as me but I do believe that it works as long as you’re open to it.

Happy Health!

Easter Sunday-Funday

Growing up in New England with a Great-Grandmother matriarch, I now realize as an adult that my family had so many great holiday traditions.  As a kid, Easter was my favorite holiday because I loved the interactive and competitive nature of finding your treats rather than just having them given to you.  Here are a few traditions that I thought I would share.

Attire

There was nothing better than choosing my annual Easter Dress with my Mum each year.  Three decades later, I still get just as excited.  This year I got this adorable Nanette Lepore dress:

Easter Decor

One of my favorite Easter family traditions was decorating our annual Easter Egg Ornament for the Easter Tree.  Each year my Great-Grandmother would have the grandchildren paint Easter Eggs and choose the best one, label it with the year and our name and would keep it for years to come.

Once she gathered the eggs from years past along with our newest addition, she would trim a few branches of forsythia and display our ornaments in the front entry way.

eggtree.jpg

The centerpiece on the dining table consisted of lilacs, tulips, or daffodils.

The Hunt

I had a lot of cousins which made the great hunt quite exciting.  The kids would stay in the house while the adults would hide the eggs.  The kids would then line up by age.  The youngest would get a head start while the older kids wait patiently.

The best part of our egg hunt was that we had several types of eggs that were held in different regard.

Standard decorated hard boiled egg:  the kid that found the most HB eggs would win a prize.

Metallic Eggs – The Silver Egg was a large silver plastic egg that had great candy and cash in it.  There was only one and you would also win a prize if you found it.  The Golden Egg, similar to the Silver Egg but better goodies, more cash, & a better prize.

Name Eggs – Each kid would have a large plastic egg with their own name on it.  If someone else found it, they had to leave it where they found it.  It was always torture when your cousin would find it before you bc then they would tease you until you found it.

Mache Eggs – The last type of eggs were the Mache eggs.  Williams-Sonoma carries candy-filled mache eggs that brought me back to those times the moment I saw them.

Papier-Mâché Nesting Eggs

The Dinner

Our Easter dinner consisted of the standard Easter meal:  cured, baked Ham, roasted sweet potatoes, scalloped potatoes, Carrot cake with cream cheese frosting for dessert.

If you’re not able to handle the dinner all on your own.  Bake a ham and ask your friends to bring over their favorite Easter meal tradition.

Leftovers

Garbage soup:  Despite the unappealing name, my Great-Grandmother would make this amazing soup the following week for Sunday Dinner.  She would use the ham bone to make the stock, add Tuscan white beans, lentils, potatoes and any vegetables that were left over from the meal.

If you celebrate the holiday, Happy Easter!

It’s a Mad, Mad World

Ok so I realize it’s been done, but I can’t resist a great ‘Mad Men’ cocktail party.  I know the classic cocktails & fashion have been around for a few years now, but since the AMC show is coming back I’m getting excited about it all over again.

My love affair began when a woman in my office that I absolutely adore asked me in her hot Argentine accent, “Oh my God, do you watch Mad Men?” “No”, I replied.  She responded, “Because you totally look like the sexy red headed woman in the office”.  I have to admit that I was so flattered that I immediately did some research by watching the show and decided to promptly dress as Joan for Halloween that year!

    

Here are a few tips for throwing a ‘Mad Men’ party, either for the show’s long awaited return or a slow weekend.

Invites

Paperless Post of course

Decor/Serveware

Anything Silver, Platinum, Mod, or Retro – use your everyday serveware or glassware.  Hit up a thrift store and buy a few retro glasses or an ice bucket to give your bar the Mad Men look.

Food

Deviled Eggs w pickled jalapeno

Little Smokies w/ brown sugar/mustard sauce

Shrimp Cocktail

Drink

Martini’s broken down

There are a plethora of ways to order/make Martinis and several names for very similar versions.  Here is a quick breakdown.  You thought ordering a Starbucks coffee was hard (my regular order is a Tall, Decaf, Sugar-free Vanilla, Soy Latte – what can I say, I know what I like)?  Here’s how to order a martini properly.

Pick your poison:  Vodka or Gin – be sure to specify if you’d prefer Vodka or Gin.  It’s important to use a top shelf variety, as you essentially are drinking it straight, and you want a high quality label for both flavor and hangover avoidance.

Pick your glass:  Straight up (in a Martini glass) or on the Rocks (over ice in a short glass)

Pick your flavor/Garnish:  Olive or  Lemon Twist

Additional modifiers: Dry, Extra-Dry etc…  I don’t really enjoy the flavor of Dry Vermouth, so I always order my Martinis extra-dry.  Which is ironic because dry or extra dry means LESS Dry Vermouth.  When making Martinis at home, I recommend adding either a splash into the glass and pouring it out (so it leaves a layer on the glass) or using a Martini Mister.

When placing an order, list your modifiers in the same order as I’ve listed above (unless you have an additional modifier).  For example, I like to order:  Bombay Sapphire (gin) Martini, straight-up, extra dry, with olive

Additional Martini Drinks (and no, I don’t mean foofy blue drinks that are served in an up glass, I mean REAL Martinis).

Dirty Martini – Martini with olive juice & olive garnish – extra dirty means more olive juice

Perfect Martini – Martini with equal parts Sweet & Dry Vermouth with both olive & lemon twist garnishes

Gibson – aka Martini with a pearl onion i/o twist or olive

Gimlet – aka Martini with lime juice (i/o vermouth) & a lime garnish

Classic Whiskey Drinks

Old Fashioned

Manhattan

Attire

Women

Any of the following:  Classic cinch-waisted dress with belt, fascinator, sequins, faux fur, beaded necklaces, gloves

Men

Any of the following:  Suits, skinny ties, cuff links, slicked back hair, pocket square, Randolph Engineering sunglasses

Hope you enjoy and don’t forget the Tonga Line!

Festa della Donna

Festa della Donna takes place on March 8th in Italia.  On this day, men bestow women (including strangers) Mimosa flowers.  I always thought it was such a sweet gesture.  In the US it’s referred to as International Women’s Day which just doesn’t have the same ring to it (and it doesn’t include flowers).  Be sure to send love to all of the women in your life this week.  

Liquori Italiani

Campari

While celebrating a friend’s birthday at a restaurant that prides themselves on their food and cocktail pairings, I realized that there are a myriad of Italian Liquors that have a great deal to offer and there’s not a lot of general knowledge out there.

Most reputable bars always have that shelf of gorgeous vintage liquor labels, but their contents are a mystery to most.  I thought I would give a quick breakdown to help shed some light on the subject:

Aperitivi:

Vermouth

   

Martini & Cinzano – both are Italian brands of Vermouth that are offered in bianco (white)/dry or rosso (red)/sweet. Typically Bianco or Dry vermouths are used for Martinis, while Rosso or Sweet vermouths are used in cocktails such as Manhattans to compliment the bourbon.

Bitter Liquors

   

Campari & Aperol – both liquors have bitter, citrusy flavor with similar sugar contents; however, Campari has a stronger alcohol content.  They are both great in cocktails with soda water, grapefruit juice, or even gin.  The Negroni is a very popular Campari cocktail.  I’ve also floated Aperol in a glass of champagne, which makes a great champagne cocktail.

Digestivi:

Anise

 Romana-Sambuca-lg sambuca1 Sambuca

Strega & Sambuca – Anise (or liquorice) flavored syrupy liquors.  They are typically served neat, chilled, on the rocks, or with water.  Sometimes when served neat, bars will add 3 espresso beans, which are supposed to represent the holy trinity.  One other ‘of note’ is you can light Sambuca on fire, which makes a fun party trick.

Amaro Herbal Liqueurs

Italian Liquors      Averna

Fernet & Averno – These herbal liqueurs are generally used as a digestivo after a large meal.  They’re Italy’s version of Germany’s Jagermeister.  They’re also well known amongst the restaurant industry (especially in SF) as the shot of choice.  

Dolce

Amaretto        File:Homemade limoncello.jpg

Amaretto – almond flavored liqueur, served neat or on the rocks.  I don’t recommend it in cocktails, as it’s very sweet (unless it’s a coffee drink).

Frangelico – hazelnut flavored liqueur, should be served similarly to Amaretto – very tasty in coffee, too.

Limoncello – Very sweet and thick lemon liquor that should be served ice cold in little cordial glasses (small portions are key because it’s quite sugary).  I’ve also used it in cocktails as well.  I made a dessert cocktail one year with vanilla vodka, limoncello, and soda water.  Beware because it’s tasty, but dangerous.

Hope this helps next time you’re in the mood to try something new!

Cin Cin!

Oscars de la Rent the Runway

Growing up on the East Coast, I always thought the Super Bowl was the biggest night on television.  After living on the West Coast for almost 8 years, I’ve realized that certain award shows in California are considered of equal importance.

Before moving West, I wasn’t really into Award season, but now I have to admit that I do look forward to the amazing gowns, Ricky Gervais referring to Bruce Willis as ‘Ashton’s Kutcher’s Dad,’ and Joan Rivers skewering celebrities the day after their red carpet waltz.

If you’re like me and DO enjoy the pomp and circumstance, I highly recommend having an Oscar Party this year.  You can dress it up (literally) or down as much as you’d like.  Below are ideas for the former, but if you’d like to host something a little less extravagant, refer to some of my suggestions in game day entertaining or wine & cheese basics and simply adjust appropriately.

Invites:  

Design your own invitations @ Paperless Post.  They only take a minute, they’re free, and they’re better looking than Evite or Facebook.

Food:

Smoked Salmon Blinis Canap s with Sour Cream and Caviar (1888R-15275 / MKI-MON061059 © Stockbroker)      Crostini with Wild Mushrooms and Gorgonzola photo

  • Caviar canapes
  • Fromage & Charcuterie platter
  • Mini Quiches/Arancini – I have zero qualms about using Trader Joe’s frozen appetizers, they’re tasty & EASY!
  • Fruit de Mer Platter:  Oysters, Jumbo Shrimp, Crab, and or Lobster w/ mignonette, lemon, & cocktail sauce
  • 3 styles of Crostini – i.e. diced tomatoes, evoo, & fresh parmesan;  sautéed wild mushrooms, goat cheese, & truffle oil; sautéed brocollini & red pepper flakes

Beverages:

The French 75 - A Perfect Cocktail for New Years    Classic Cocktail

By sticking with 1-2 liquor types & mixing them with Champagne will give the appearance that you have a very robust drink selection, but without spending an exorbitant amount of money.  I recommend Vodka as the first liquor because almost everyone likes it.  The second selection for the Oscars, should be something classic like Gin – Bombay Sapphire my favorite as I don’t like the strong juniper flavor of Tangueray.

Attire:

Dress it up:

Silver Sequin Shine GownAvril DressStarstruck Dress

or just spruce it up:

Silver Southern Plantation EarringsEmerald Drop EarringsArt Deco Bling Cuff

If you so desire, add a note on your paperless post inviting guests to dress to the nines if they’re up for it.  I would highly recommend going for it and wearing fancy cocktail dresses for fun.  Don’t have one?  Check out a loner from Rent the Runway.  Don’t want to spend $125 on a gown for the evening, then spend $15 on sparkly earrings or bracelet.

Help make the lesser-known Awards more fun:

Print up copies of the Oscar Ballot so guests can take their best stab at preselecting the winners.  Trade ballots once they’re completed during the red carpet extravaganza and award a prize to the winner at the end.  Don’t forget to have the music cued if the winner’s speech goes on too long!

Multi Gras

February 21st is a festive day in many predominantly Catholic nations:  Shrove Tuesday (aka Mardi Gras, Martedi Grasso, or Fat Tuesday).

This day marks the finality of a celebration of reveling (which has been said to be derived from a Pagan ritual) prior to the advent of Lent on Ash Wednesday.  

It’s incredible to see how this very old tradition has evolved in a multitude of cultures:

Carnevale di Venezia

Carnaval, Rio di Janiero

Rio de Janeiro Carnival, Brazil - Beautiful costumes

Carnaval, Spain

Fastnacht Day, Germany

Mardi Gras, New Orleans

Maslenitsa, Russia

While I was not raised Catholic, I do like the idea of taking approximately six weeks to give up one of my weakness.  Is anyone else with me?

Girly Mountain High

       

One positive thing about snow is that it brings ski weekends!  I love a great girls’ getaway and a ski house is the perfect opportunity.

I haven’t skied since I tore my ACL a few years ago so I make a great ‘house mom’.  I prepare homemade soups and hot toddies for everyone when they get home.  Even when I did ski, I have to admit that I wasn’t the most skilled skier on the mountain.  I was, however, (and still am) very skilled in Apres.   

There’s nothing like a steamy-windowed lodge full of rosy-cheeked people ready for a tasty beverage after ‘leaving it all out on the mountain’.  

After apres (ha!) we’d head home to have  homemade soup and wind down.  This typically entails sitting by the fire, playing cards/games, and usually a late-night hot tub soak.

Next time you don’t have plans in the winter, call up your favorite girls (or guys) and getaway!

      

Entertaining, Chapter 1: Wine & Cheese

If you’re not in the mood to host an extravagant event, but want to entertain, the foundation of many gatherings starts with wine & cheese.  Both require very little prep & clean up, but they hit the spot and make you look like the host(ess) with the most.  Here are a few easy tricks for a simple entertaining that’s classic, tasteful, and most importantly tasty.

Step 1 Wine:

  Wine and Cheese

Selection

I like to keep it simple with wine selection if I’m not doing a wine pairing or tasting.  With that I tend to buy one type of sparkling, one type of white & one type of red wine.  Since most people bring wine, that creates more variety for guests that may not prefer the wines I choose.  Also, since my selections are so limited, I prefer to go with what I call ‘crowd pleasers’ (selections that almost everyone enjoys):

  • Sparkling Wine:  A decent Prosecco or Cava is perfect for bubbles.  Other options include less expensive CA champagnes such as Gloria Ferrer.
  • White Wine:  I prefer to go with a dry & crisp white such as something from Northern Italy, or in the summer, a dry rose or New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc.
  • Red Wine:  I always go with Pinot Noir as there are decent Pinots out there at reasonable prices and everyone like PN. Even people that say they don’t prefer red wine like it and people that love red wine like it.  Easy peasy.  Other options include a Malbec (has a little more body) or a Tuscan table wine.

Set up

Hotel Silver-Plated Oversized Bucket

  • Bubbles & White: Put them on ice in a large party tub (rent it).  Place flutes & white stems close by for easy access.  Open one bottle of each and tie a wine key to the tub for easy access.  For opening bubbles:  be sure it hasn’t been shaken, remove the cage and alway keep your hand on top of the cork.  If it’s warm inside and the bottle’s cold, it could pop off unexpectedly.  No one wants to leave your soiree with a black eye.  The key is to hold the cork tight with a towel and twist the bottle to remove.  Go slow in order to avoid the loud pop.  I was taught ‘you only pop a bottle at the races’.🙂
  • Red: Line up your red wine bottles like soldiers with the labels facing out.  Open 2 bottles ahead of time and leave a wine key handy for later.  For synthetic corks, put the worm down the side between the glass & the cork.  Doing this will break the pressure seal and make it much easier to pull out.  Line up red wine glasses close by so guests can help themselves.
  • Glassware:  I’m a real stickler for having appropriate glassware for the right kind of wine.  If you must use the same glass for the white & the red, fine.  If you’re going to serve bubbles,  and don’t own the proper stemware, please purchase champagne flutes.  If you entertain at least once every two years, I highly recommend making the investment.  I’ve collected so many eclectic flutes over the years that it makes it part of the fun when my guests come over they get to choose their favorite flute.
  • Identification:  Leave a glass full of multiple colored Sharpies by the glasses so guests can write their name on the foot of the glass for easy identification later on in the evening.  I personally prefer this method to those goofy wine charms. 

Step 2 Cheese:

B&B package: cheese tray

Selection

You should always have at least 3-4 cheeses depending on how many guests you are having but never more than 6 varieties.  If you have a large group attending buy more of the same as too many types can get confusing.  I recommend selecting a cross section of cow, sheep, & goat cheeses with different textures & flavors.

Set up

  • Serving Piece: My favorite platform for cheese is olive wood (rent it).  The natural grain and color allows the cheese to really pop.  If you don’t have a wood cheese board, I would recommend any large ceramic, marble, or glass platter (rent it).  Try to avoid any materials that have divots or holes as the cheese could get stuck in the cracks and could be difficult to clean.  If you have to use your favorite weathered wood cheese pedestal, use cheese paper.  
  • Serving utensils:  Be sure to leave a cheese knife or spreader for each cheese option.  Each knife is designed for specific textures of cheese:  a curved spreader for soft cheeses, a semiheart-shaped blade for hard cheeses, a wide blade for semihard cheeses and a thin blade for semisoft cheeses.
  • Arrangement:  It’s proper to arrange in the ‘cheese clock‘ position.  If you feel that may be too esoteric for your guests (as I personally do), I recommend setting them up from left to right with the more mild first moving to the most pungent.  Cheese should be served at room temperature so be sure to take it out before your party starts.
  • Labeling: Many retailers sell erasable cheese markers (which are cute, but they’re too large and clunky in my opinion) so I prefer the following method: take a tooth pick & white labels. Fold the label in half at the top of the pick to make a mini flag.  You can use this to label your cheeses.
  • Accoutrements:  This is my FAVORITE part of the cheese platter.  There are a myriad of items you can add to the platter that complement the cheese.  I usually put 4-5 of the following out in mini dishes (rent it):
    • Pickled red onions (homemade of course)
    • Mango or fig chutney (sometimes homemade)
    • Olives (don’t forget the empty mini bowl for the pits)
    • Grain mustard
    • Cornichons
    • Small grape bunch (bc they look pretty)
    • Sliced apple, pear, or fig wedges
    • Honey (if you have any type of Bleu cheese)
    • Dried fruits/Raw Almonds
    • Crackers/Bread (for soft cheeses) – please buy water crackers or a baguette – no flavored crackers or Triskets etc.  It’ll take your cheese plate down a notch

  • Extra Credit, Charcuterie:  There’s nothing I love more than plate of cured meats.  If you want to add to your cheese plate, stop by your local Italian Deli and set up a second platter of 3-5 of your favorite salty treats:

A mini version of the above is also great for Friday night, movie night, or before going out on a date night.  I usually prepare a small meat & cheese plate on Friday night as a little reward for a busy work week.

If you would like more specifics or recommendations, please contact me or add a comment.

Buon Appetito!