March 2, 2013

Oscar Mania

Every year for the past 12 years, I've been throwing an Oscar party. Some years have been crazier than others, with up to 40 guests one year. That year, I made crab cakes, lamb meatballs, harissa carrot dip, and all manner of hot appetizers. While this may have been the peak of my culinary achievement, it created a very stressful day since everything needed to be hot when served.That sounds like a fun title for an autobiography: "Hot When Served."

I've learned a few lessons over the years about making entertaining cooking easier.

Lesson #1, and my biggest aha: don't serve very much hot food! It just sits there anyway, so even a hot dish is eaten cold. Make dishes that can be made ahead of time and taste great cold or at room temperature. Make one hot dish and serve it right when the party starts or even a little later so that people can have something warm. I made one or two dishes the night before and everything else the day of, and was pretty much done by 2pm.

Lesson #2: minimize prep and save space by preparing things with common / easy bases. The two bruschetta dips and spinach dip can share carb bases. Instead of serving the bruschetta spreads on he breads themselves, I created a carb platter so everyone could choose the base of their choice and not be constrained by the amount of bread I purchased.

This year, I took most of my menu from Food & Wine, which has a nice list of quick appetizers and 30-minute hors d'oeuvres. The menu with links to recipes are below. Everything was served at room temperature except for the chicken chili. A quick note: The snack mix recipe, from the dessert guru at Momofuku, was definitely a highlight of the evening and oh-so-easy-to-make. The milk powder is totally worth it and makes the recipe.

Warm Olives with Rosemary, Garlic and Lemon - 30-Minute Hors d'Oeuvres on Food & Wine
Warm Olives with Rosemary, Garlic and Lemon
Green Bean Salad With Walnuts, Fennel, and Goat Cheese | Get the recipe:
Green Bean Salad With Walnuts, Fennel, and Goat Cheese

Spicy Spinach Dip with Pine Nuts - 30-Minute Hors d'Oeuvres on Food & Wine
Spicy Spinach Dip with Pine Nuts

Spicy Chicken Chili Recipe on Food & Wine
Spicy Chicken Chili

Bruschetta Duet Recipe on Food & Wine
Bruschetta Duet
Crab-and-Avocado Toasts Recipe on Food & Wine
Crab and Avocado Toasts

January 10, 2013

Pink Buddies

One of the great pleasures of early summer is finding that peonies are available again in June. Last year, I got kind of busy and somehow missed the season and was very sad (I won't use the hyperbole of "devastated"). I did find a few brownish little buds at a florist, but they didn't flourish into the pink puffs that I'm used to.

So imagine my delight when I walked in to Whole Foods a few weeks ago to find a few bunches of healthy-looking pink peonies looking out at me from their thin black plastic flower containers. They were calling, "buy us, buy us!" So I did.

With the dining table still crowded with craft items, I wanted to put together a low arrangement that could go on my coffee tables.

I've seen quite a few arrangements lately that leverage the small bud vase as a way to arrange flowers, so I wanted to try it for myself.

I used three small (identical) glass vases and put my peonies and some greens in them.

I basically like how this turned out, but I think I made a mistake by not having any variation in either the flowers or the vases. Next time, I would try to use vases of varying heights or try to mix the flower color.

December 17, 2012

New City, New Holiday Card

Despite the fact that we have had some warm weather here in Philly lately, it's beginning to look like Christmas again. We still haven't had a chance to decorate our tree yet, but I've actually completed construction of my cards ahead of schedule this year! I had a lot of time on my hands a month ago, so I really took the opportunity to power through assembly prior to Thanksgiving.

I knew I wanted to use my new city of Philadelphia for a theme, but I really struggled with coming up with this year's design. I didn't have a problem when I did a Chicago-themed card when I first moved to the Windy City, but I really struggled with how to capture the iconic elements of Philly in a holiday card. I had several ideas - tracing the skyline, lights decorating the Liberty Bell, a stylized outline of the LOVE sculpture, but none of them seemed to be quite right.

I finally landed on a design that I thought incorporated the Philly theme in a fun way. The card itself is a riff on a pop-up card that I did a few years ago, but I added a little more design to the front and cut out a bit of work by learning how to trace lines with a razor. 

So, I incorporated two icons of Philly into my card: Ben Franklin and the Liberty Bell. I found a little clip art profile of Ben and turned him into a silhouette.


My husband randomly got a cute bumper sticker promoting Nutella, so I scanned that image in for the Liberty Bell.

Then I used all the little tree templates from a few years ago to cut out new trees in new patterns. Cheating? Maybe. All the work was still there - the only difference was that I didn't have to re-create the Powerpoint document that I used for the templates.

Creating the backing paper for the popup used to be the most labor intensive part; all that measuring, line-drawing, and cutting is a lot of work. Then I figured out that you can just use one that you've already cut and trace the lines with a razor blade to cut all that pre-work out. Just watch those fingers!

Finally, fold the backing and glue everything together to get the final product.

I have to admit that I'm a bit disappointed in this year's design. It lacked the spark of an idea that usually comes to me at some point during the year. Maybe it's because I came into this year with a theme and an agenda and just boxed myself in. Maybe it's because I'm just running out of ideas. In any case, I'm hoping that next year will bring a more fresh and exciting design, but I'll try not to worry about it for now.

Happy holidays!

November 2, 2012

Experimenting with Half Moons

With only a few weeks before I start my new job, I feel like now is the time to experiment with nail art that I might not be able to get away with at work. Well, at least until I get to know people a little better.

I've been dying to try this half-moon manicure trend. Maybe I shouldn't call it a trend, since it's been around for so long that it has kind of gone mainstream. There's a lot of nail art that is so popular right now, and this is one of types that an average girl can do at home.

I think the most fun part about this manicure is picking out what colors you're going to use. Since I'm cheap, I like to use combinations of nail polish that I already have. I think this actually makes life easier, since I tend to get paralyzed by indecision when I have too many choices. Gold and silver are really nice neutrals that can work with most nail polish colors. I used this OPI gold color (Glitzerland) that I use primarily around the holidays and this gorgeous Ulta color peacock green color (Envy). (I have to say that I think the quality of this Ulta polish is quite a bit worse than other salon-quality nail polishes. It chips much more quickly than I would normally expect.

Basically, all you have to do is:

  1. Start with a standard base coat.
  2. Layer on the color you want at the base of your nails (the half-moon). You don't have to extend the polish all the way to the tips, but you can. You may want more than one layer of polish at the base depending on the opacity of your polish.
  3. Wait until the polish dries completely. This could take as much as an hour or more to be safe.
  4. Put on your hole reinforcement stickers. You can get these from your local Staples or other office supply store.
  5. Layer on your top color that you want to extend to your tips. Layer it on thick on the first try, then immediately peel off the sticker.  Do this one nail at a time so you can peel the sticker off while the top layer of polish is still wet!
  6. Use your trusty top coat. I recommend Seche Vite.

It's a little time consuming, but I definitely think it's something fun to try at home! If you want to make this look less edgy, you can try more muted colors. How about a pale pink half-moon with a gray or taupe like Chinchilly at the tips? You can also do a smaller gold moon with a more traditional color like red; or colors with less contrast (a berry + plum combo) to make a little less of a statement but still have a little fun with it.

October 24, 2012

Lovely Leftover Leather

I received a Kindle for Christmas 2010. What does that have to do with crafting? Well, it turns out that the leather cover I purchased had a defect that interfered with the Kindle's circuits. Amazon was kind enough to send me a new cover, but I felt bad that the cover was going to go to waste. As someone who strives to be more green, I decided to keep the cover and make a bracelet out of the leftover leather.

And then the cover sat in my nightstand drawer for two years.

But now that I've had some time off, I decided to take action!

I found this DIY leather bracelet on Pinterest and decided that it would be perfect candidate for the leftover leather from the Kindle.

So, I had to strip the leather from the Kindle, which turned out to be the most excruciating part. Instead of just ripping apart the seaming, I had to cut off the sewn edges (like a clamshell plastic package) and then had to use both hands and feet to pry the pink leather off of the plastic reinforcement on the interior because it was glued on so well.. (Place both feet on the binding, step on it, get a corner of leather loose, and then PULL!)

After all that, I ended up with some surprisingly supple leather and started cutting.

Here are the detailed instructions from Oh The Lovely Things on how to do this yourself with any leftover leather or new leather you decide to purchase. I made a few adjustments for length of the bracelet (since I have a small wrist) and width of the leather (to match the proportion of my small wrist), but I otherwise mostly followed her instructions. I happened to have some big snaps that I had used for a project long ago. The only thing I had to actually purchase was some thread to match the leather where I sewed the snaps. I just cut a few ovals and strips, sewed the leather to secure the bow placement, put on the snaps, and voila!

One tip: instead of just gluing the small leather strip in place like Oh the lovely things suggests, I also sewed the overlapping leather together for a more secure placement. The leather is actually quite absorbent, so I was afraid that the glue wouldn't hold long term.

I have a navy blue cover, too, so I think I may make a few more and give them away as stocking stuffers for the holidays! But, they're so cute that I may just hoard them for myself.

October 19, 2012

Drying Paint

I've been obsessed with my nails lately. In an effort to recreate a look I saw on Pinterest...

...I experimented with trying to create an orangey coral and gold combination. What I created wasn't really close, but I still like the results.

It's a little sloppy, but I liked the dry brush technique look that I ended up having to use to blend the lines between the red and gold. I just painted on the red base layer and then brushed the gold on top like something of a french manicure style. The line was sloppy, so I then took the brush that had air dried for a few seconds and brushed down toward the base of the nail to give it a choppier finish.

June 9, 2012

The Tiniest Entryway Ever

I wrote a post almost at the beginning of my blogging about a little piece of IKEA furniture I repurposed for my entryway. It has served me and my husband well over the last few years, mostly because it gave us a way to sit and store at the same time in our tiny entryway.

Over time, I've noticed how much it gets in the way of getting in and out of the house. The whole landing inside our actual condo measures only 3.5' x 3.5', so anytime more than one person wants to enter, someone has to step totally behind the door or is forced to walk on the super narrow portion of my winding staircase. Sorry to all you visitors who have thought that you were going to tumble to your deaths.

So, I finally decided to do a little redecorating. Let me tell you that it's not easy to find furniture that will fit in that area. I went through dozens of side tables that both did or didn't fit the measurements of the hallway. Plus, I like to have stuff that is unique, but that doesn't cost a fortune. I at least have found some non-obvious retail sites in the last several months that kind of fit the bill. 

Check out the before...

...and the after...

I can't bear to get rid of the trunk yet, so it has found a home on the back landing of our condo.

Here are a few resources for those that are looking for decorating options that aren't the typical retail options.
  • Ballard Designs
  • Home Decorators Collection (yes, this is a Home Depot company, but it's still a pretty decent resource)
  • Jonathan Adler for accessories - he has a very specific look, but I love it.
  • Global Views is a wholesaler that we used when we were working with a decorator. One great thing about working with a decorator is the insane amount of money that you can save off of retail. Oddly, hiring a decorator can pay for itself just based on the furniture discount if you are planning on making a few major purchases.