Sunday, May 24, 2009

The Aftermath

I've got to confess that I need to work on my "after" picture capturing. I just haven't figured out how to be both a hostess and a historian simultaneously. Some guests may not - SHOCKING - want to be blogged about each time they come over, hubby says. So I've got to use my photo-filter accordingly :) I was able to sneak a few shots, though, so here we go!

Well, at least I remembered to take the plastic off of the silver, and here is the final table setting, with which I was quite pleased:

Roses were on sale at the best floral department ever for $1 each or $7 for a dozen, so I spent a good bit of time there choosing only my very favorite stems to pull together the table with our rust-colored china on the hutch. I also got these peonies to enhance the entry area which are incredibly fragrant - it smells like a wedding in here!

The summer veggie salad ended up offering the perfect splash of color to the ensemble. You'll see that I opted to use my grandmother's and mother's Blue Willow china. Together they have a setting large enough to seat the ARMY, so I was of course, happy to take some odds and ends off of their hands. I love dressing up an all-white setting with variable serving dishes. This is one of the reasons we chose this all-white everyday set. I have my eye on some other sets to accessorize with as the years go on!

For dinner, we served thyme, dill and lemon salmon fillets, summer veggie (fruit?) salad with balsamic, and handmade pasta with pesto and homemade bread.

During the process of cooking, I came across many technique-ish tidbits to share. First off, when making pasta dough, you'll do yourself a favor to roll it into tiny servings (no larger than a lady's fist) before you roll it flat. This will save you from rolling out 3-yard-long pasta noodles, which is really impossible to handle! So wrap each bundle in seran wrap and let sit out for about a half hour while you get other things together:

Use a TON of flour:

Otherwise, you'll just end up with clumpy-pasta city. Trust me.

For the summer salad, we used a mix of cucumbers, red tomatoes, yellow tomatoes and red onions. We dressed it in salt, pepper, EVOO and balsamic. This simple mix really did the trick for me, as I was looking for a spin on the traditional lettuce-based salad. The recipe is adapted from a Panzanella recipe I learned over in Italy at Apicius. Traditionally in Italia, cubes of day-old bread would be added, but I left it out since this was a fairly carb-y dinner to begin with and we were using it as a side-dish. Panzanella with bread, however, can make a lovely light lunch for summer days (especially if you add a little fresh mozzarella for sustenance and protein). Just remember these quick tips when you make it:

Always let the red onion bathe in milk for a half hour or so before adding it to the salad. This will really cut the harsh bite of the onion and allow the flavors to marry more happily:

Next, when cutting the cucumber, slice off each end and rub it on the main part of the stock. This creates a vacuum and sucks out all unpleasant acid. You'll see the foaming acid here:

Hubby made these gorgeous salmon fillets with a nice light herby rub, with dill and thyme. He also whipped up a homemade lemon-garlic mayo for dipping:

Keep your bread warm in linens, and serve:

It all turned out quite delicious!

I am thrilled that we have a surprise sunny day today. All week long, forecasts have called for rain, so the light beaming into my living room is quite a happy sight :)

Happy Memorial Day!

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Sprucing-up with Scent

Looking to spruce up your space in an aromatic way, but feel your efforts are trumped after the vacuum leaves behind that icky, hot, electric-smelling trail? Here's a little secret I can offer that will perfume your space in just the right way- and, it's lasting.

Remember those fragrance diffusers that may or may not still emit scent after sitting on your side table for 2+ years? Well, here's a way to...reinvent them. Dab some oil from your diffuser on a cotton ball or two, toss in your vacuum bag, and done! After your make your vacuum rounds, your house will smell like heaven.

This is a little chore I plan to do today before our company arrives tonight. We're having some couples over from church, and planning a delicious homemade menu. Stay tuned for more details! Here is a preview of our table:

I wanted to create a special setting, without making it stuffy. Hubby helped me come up with the perfect combo. I had originally gone overboard with the gold (yes, we're talking gold flatware and chargers), but thankfully he lovingly suggested that I take it down a notch :) And, yes, that is plastic wrap on my trivets. That's another little trick. Keeping air away from your silver ensures the pieces will be nice and shiny 'till it's time for the party! Now let's hope I don't forget to take the wrapping off in time :)

Friday, May 15, 2009

Artichoke & Co.

I have a new favorite party appetizer: steamed artichokes. The veggie I looked least-forward to preparing has now won me over completely.

I once shied away from the prickly-looking bulb, fearing what might lie beneath those green layers. Sure, I had enjoyed an artichoke or two in my time, but never from my own kitchen. When I saw the green masses shining prettily at the grocery, I knew it was time to buck up.

First, I did my research. To my amusement, I stumbled across a Tyler Florence recipe that sounded divine. So I got to work. You have to do a lot of preparation to make a steamed artichoke, I learned. First, cut off the stem, so the artichoke sits flat. Next, cut off the top 1/3 of the bulb, exposing some of the center. Then get rid of all pointy leaf edges with your shears:

I pre-made my broth, the night before our dinner party, so all I had to do day-of was heat up and steam. When we have week-night dinner parties, I try to do as much ahead of time as possible. Day of, I like to worry about things like filling water cups, lighting candles, putting away tennis shoes, etc.

The broth was simple with pantry ingredients such as chicken broth, lemon, thyme, white wine and garlic. When the broth got nice and boily, I prepared steamer out of my mesh strainer/skimmer in combo with my dutch oven. The result was actually quite a success and worked out to look like this:

I let the artichoke sit for roughly 45 minutes. During that time, I bathed it in broth on occasion, and added more white wine and water when the liquid ran too low (otherwise you'll end up with a burned garlic disaster).

Be forewarned that the inside of an artichoke requires much... cleaning. These are the remnants of the choke I scooped out with a spoon upon removal from my steamer:

The result was this fun spread of artichoke leaves and dips. A fun, fresh twist on standard chips and dip. At our house, we usually enjoy appetizers standing up around the kitchen, so I pre-peeled all leaves off the choke for easy grabbing and dipping. This worked well, and I would recommend it, especially for groups. Fewer people handling the artichoke makes everyone feel more comfortable, I imagine.

The sauces were simple. First, a lemon-garlic mayo, and second, some store-bought basil pesto. I also set small bread and butter plates out so guests could enjoy their own little combinations of dips.

Would you believe that I did not take a single photo of hubby's delicious prosciutto pizza?! In my hungry stupor, I failed to capture the masterpiece on film. I did, however, snap a shot of the not-so-exciting salad. I am really looking for some easy salad ideas that do not require tons of ingredients and preparation. Does it exist!? My standard is spinach/mixed greens, tomatoes, croutons, sometimes nuts, and oil and balsamic vinegar:

The rest of the plans were simple. I was excited to use my new Anthropologie Mexican tile coasters:

We served some of my favorite Chilean Merlot, and some cold mint water, with leaves from our mint plant given to us by Hubby's mother:

And I kept our table setting pretty minimal. When we serve pizza, we put the pies right on the dining table, so any tablescapes are sure to be removed after all. Simple is better when many dishes will eventually make their way to the table.

So that is really it. Forgive me for not showcasing the star of the show, Hubby's pizza! He's really gotten to be quite good at his recipe, which I know I've promised to share with you before. Looking forward to a fun wedding celebration weekend for a dear friend. Hope you enjoy your days off as well!

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Blooms and Dinner Party Prep

This morning I awoke to a most glorious sight:

We finally have a bloom! Well, actually, two blooms. Our Gardenias have come full-term and are just completely bursting with more potential flowers. As you can imagine, I was ecstatic to find these dainty white lovelies during my morning watering routine.

Tonight we're having some friends over for Hubby's homemade pizza. Naturally, I laid out all of our serving pieces for the occasion last night, so here's a (very teeny) little preview:

Nothing too exciting yet! However, I did get to vacuum, set the table, and arrange various vignettes around the apartment, which was (perhaps to my own embarrassment) a luscious dessert for me last evening. I've also prepared a tasty broth in which to steam an artichoke, and a yummy dip to go with it while hubby simmered his sauce and rounded his pizza pies. I can't wait to tell you how our new appetizer fares!

Happy Thursday!

Sunday, May 3, 2009

"We Don't Do Bathrooms"

This weekend my momma and I ventured out to embark on one of our most favorite pastimes: estate sale shopping.

I'm not sure how we developed the passion, though I think it just grew out of a shared love for scoring thrifty finds. The two of us just can't get enough browsing and scouting out and knowing all merchandise in town at all times. Estate sales offer something unique, and hidden... a sneak peek into someone else's life, which cannot be purchased at a store. Admittedly a slightly creepy way to spend time, shopping at estate sales is an excellent way to acquire pieces with "good bones" if you've got the time to spruce them up with a little re-design TLC.

The weather was a rainy mess on Saturday, so we were left with just enough time to hit this little sale before the storm.

First we came across the standard spread of china, glasses, compotes, candlesticks and more. The family's last initial began with "F" and we found several pieces of monogrammed flatware. The monograms looked great, and kudos to the lady in charge, but this personalization definitely deterred us from several of the tabletop pieces.

I was oooh-ing over this gorgeous Wedgewood creamer, which I thought would make a precious vase for a bunch of ivory roses, or even a make-up brush holder:

Next, I got into serious reupholster mode. This family had some really nice pieces of furniture with loads of style, but the upholstery for the most part was extremely dated. I really can't resist upholstered pieces with wooden frames, so I obviously became quickly obsessed with the following pieces:

This would be so fun in a quirky graphic print. It would be perfect amounts of unexpected, stylish, and almost kind of classic:

This too, could make the cutest desk or vanity chair. The fabric (close up is yellow, ivory and white corduroy stripes) didn't really need replacing- I love the dainty color- but I would consider painting the frame ivory (or even gold-gasp!) for some added femininity. My mom was in love with the tiny little side table, that has a leaf pull-out tray, which would be perfect to rest a teacup on in a guest room. This piece too, needs to be a lighter color because it is so pretty and petite:

This chair is so perfectly preserved from the '70s and I think it would look great with a heavy canvas upholstery (maybe even black with white frame?) and punchy bright pillows (clearly some embroidered ones from Anthro). The great details like studding and the tiny (unnecessary?) wheels on the bottom make it unique and well made:

And here is the entire reason I am doing this post. I think this couch is so fabulous. Call me crazy, but I think it has all the elements to make it a fun statement piece in a living room. I can't decide what I think about the golden velour upholstery... just typing those words makes me re-think it again. Sadly, this piece was sold, but hopefully the new owner has cute taste and a good vision for updates:

So the lady who lived here was apparently an expert seamstress. I found this wall-hanging in the hall and just went crazy over it. It was $15, and I probably should have snatched it right up. Would this be the cutest piece for a little girl's room or what? Not that we are in the market for a piece like that (!), but it is too cute so I had to share! The patterns, textures and colors had me mesmerized:

I had to show you these. Hubby is in the market for some new clubs himself, but he is looking for something... a little more updated than this. The bag is FAB (would look so good with a preppy golf outfit), but I'm sure the clubs have outdated technology, so I did not purchase:

Vintage suitcases for $4 each?! I mean, you would kill your back lugging these whales around, but you'd look hot at the airport with such carefully crafted pieces. I also felt like that wool fabric would feel so hot and itchy to carry around in the summer. Right? Beauty is pain:

This fur, unfortunately had a pretty noticeable tear on the top of the right sleeve. Otherwise, the swing-style coat was so cute with 3/4 length sleeves, single button closure and hitting at the hip:

I can totally understand if you're slightly grossed-out by this form of shopping. Not everyone loves it, and I can respect that. However, you have to consider that most estate sale items are listed for such a reasonable price, that you just can't complain too much. But beware: some sales sell items in literally every room in the house, bathrooms included. So steer clear for obvious reasons. Also, estate sales are quite different from garage sales. You probably know that, however, if you've been scarred by an icky garage sale, don't let it discourage you from visiting some estates, as these seem to be safer options for you squeamish vintage shoppers. For the record, I am not renouncing garage sales! There are many a good find to be found with some good patience and vision and a good shopping buddy.

I learned the ropes from my mom for finding some hidden treasures, "We don't do garage sales (for the most part!), and we definitely don't do bathrooms!"


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