It feels like the moment Halloween makes it’s ghoulish appearance, we’re onto Thanksgiving menu prep, followed by the Christmas/Hannukah rush and before you know it, we’re ringing in the New Year with champagne and ‘Old Lang Syne.’ It really is amazing. As a child, I can imagine it’s all very fresh and exciting, but as an adult, man, it is a lot!
a) nothing will be done in time
b) nothing will taste good
c) nobody will have fun
Clearly, these insecurities are (mostly) irrational, but home entertaining (Hello, Thanksgiving!!!) can be stressful in so many ways. Over the years, I’ve learned that the key to throwing a good party is to simply relax.
Easier said than done, right?
The more relaxed the hostess, the more relaxed the style of food, the more relaxed the overall vibe, the more relaxed your guests will be. Relaxed guests = happy guests = happy hostess! It’s a stupidly simple equation.
Here’s what else should be simplified: your hostess style. You want to look your best while entertaining, but it’s important to be comfortable! Here are a few casual hostess outfit ideas to get your inspired:
Madewell FLANNEL EX-BOYFRIEND SHIRT // Rag & Bone COVENTRY SKINNY JEAN // Zara ANKLE STRAP FLATS (under $50!) // Larsson & Jennings LÄDER LEATHER STRAP WATCH // Kenneth Jay Lane WIDE CUFF BRACELET // Chanel VINTAGE LOGO CLIP-ON EARRINGS // H&M APRON
American Eagle Outfitters SLEEVELESS SWEATER KNIT DRESS // Topshop HIGH WAIST BUTTON-UP LEGGINGS // J.Crew Collection CALF HAIR CHELSEA BOOTS // Chan Luu BEADED LEATHER WRAP BRACELET // Giles & Brother SKINNY RAILROAD SPIKE CUFF // BaubleBar NARNIA EAR CRAWLERS (currently 40% OFF and under $20!) // Sur La Table BUTCHER STRIPE APRON
Lastly, some style tips to keep in mind:
• Ditch the fussy jewelry — You don’t want anything dangling or jangling as you go about your hostess duties. Trade the rings, long pendant necklaces and stacks of bracelets for simple and streamlined pieces that make a statement without a lot of “noise.”
• Pick an apron that’s as stylish as what’s underneath — Spills and splatters are bound to happen even at the most elegant of dinner parties. Lucky for you there are plenty of stylish apron options for every type of hostess and event. Stick to dark colors that better mask any stains.
• Roll up your sleeves — If you’re working in a kitchen it gets hot! With additional bodies in your house, the temperature is sure to rise and you want to stay as cool as that bottle of champagne chilling on ice. Look for tops that have sleeves that can be easily rolled up, or even sleeveless styles. You don’t want hanging, draping fabric getting in the way, or in your food!
• Melt proof your makeup — Wouldn’t it be nice to make it through a whole night of cocktails and dinner without worrying about your makeup melting off your face? The first step is to use less makeup. No need for heavy powders or foundations. Stick with a multitasking BB Cream (My all-time favorite is by DR. JART BLACK LABEL DETOX BB CREAM) and layer on sheer color in the form of gels and long lasting creams (RMS BEAUTY in DEMURE is so, so pretty). Instead of a kohl eyeliner, make a switch to gel or liquid (STILA ALL-DAY WATERPROOF LIQUID LINER really lasts all day)! Shadows with a bit of sparkle, also tend to last longer without creasing. A little bit goes a long way! Finally, tap on a bit of lip stain (I love YSL BABYDOLL KISS & BLUSH) for a sheer wash of color that won’t budge.
• Stay light on your feet with flats — Forget those heels. No one wants to see a hostess teetering around as she’s carrying hot platters of food and a tray full of cocktails! Throw on a pair of your best flats – embellished, strappy, spotted or studded, it doesn’t matter. Your feet will thank you at the end of the night.
(header image via)
Summertime… and the livin’ is easy. Kind of.
Each year, during the dead of winter I dream of the days when I can enjoy the outdoors again. The cool evenings when I can sit back on my patio, with a glass of rosé in hand while the scents of dinner cooking on the grill float through the night air. The sky is illuminated by stars and scattered lanterns envelop happy faces in a warm candlelit glow.
Yeeeeeaaaaah, that doesn’t happen. Let’s not kid ourselves.
The current state of my recently-built paver patio, stone seating wall and pergola leaves much to be desired. Unless you’re desiring an “awesome” play house and a mini slide/play fortress– don’t worry, guys… we have that.
Last year, we finally invested in a TEAK TABLE for 8, and coordinating teak chairs but the patio progress came to a dead halt right there. It was just too much — too expensive, too high maintenance and too time consuming to complete. This year, we’ve added potted greenery/flowers and perimeter landscaping… so baby steps, I guess?!
To get me over that proverbial decorating finish line, I knew I had to find design-on-a-dime alternatives that would give me the high end, designer patio look I was going for without the hefty price tag. Fortunately, I’m not one to shy away from research, especially when it comes to shopping. With some point and click elbow grease and a few hours of uninterrupted time (thank goodness for day camp) I was able to come up with a list of great outdoor patio design ideas on a budget that could turn any outdoor space into actual living space. Like, space you actually want to spend time in… while you’re alive.
1. Work with a monochromatic palette
Just like a sleek wardrobe, keeping your outdoor design within a limited color palette will add a layer of sophistication and help make even the least expensive accessories look like a million bucks. Muted, monochromatic tones like greys, beiges and whites will bring the focus outward on that gorgeous green backyard and scenery.
SHOP THE LOOK:
2. Think outside the retail box
Rather than shop at big box stores or patio furniture warehouses, have you ever considered a restaurant supply store? Stores like THE WEBSTAURANT STORE or CENTRAL RESTAURANT PRODUCTS are chock full of outdoor friendly finds that top restaurants turn to for their own alfresco dining and lounging spaces. Where else can you get MODERN ALUMINUM SEATING that will hold up to the elements for under $50?!
3. Bring the inside out
I’m sure you’ve heard this before, but adding a graphic rug will ground any space and make it feel more intimate, purposeful and “finished.” With today’s technology, weather resistant textiles and fabrics are widely available and at totally affordable prices, too.
SHOP THE LOOK:
4. Paint it on
Have a basement/storage room full of mismatched old patio furniture and accessories? Get a little DIY-action going and spray your wares with weather resistant paint to make everything look more cohesive and fresh. A $10 can of spray paint can go a very long way in terms of visual impact.
Some of my favorite spray paints can be found in your local craft or hardware store and can be purchased in some really cool colors and finishes… like this ROSE GOLD for example! Just make sure that the product you select is specifically formulated to stand up against the elements and time. A WEATHER RESISTANT PRIMER also helps ensure a smooth application and great color for years to come.
OK, so who’s motivated to give their patio an overhaul? Let’s get crackin’.
Since I’ve been old enough to live on my own, I’ve always love to host and entertain my friends and family. Back in the days before children and serious life responsibilities, I used to leisurely plan my menu and really get into the hostess role. While I still love entertaining, it’s definitely a bit more of a rushed, fly-by-the-seat-of-my-pants type of thing. If anything, my last minute planning has taught me valuable lessons about what types of foods and kitchen supplies work in a pinch to elegantly feed a hungry crowd.
So without further adieu, here are my 5 best kept, secret weapons for elegant entertaining:
1) Cheese… All of the cheese.
This staple at the top of my list should surprise no one. I adore cheese and really don’t discriminate: soft, stinky, dry or veined, there really is no cheese I will turn down. As a refrigerator mainstay, cheese has a surprisingly long shelf life- a block of good quality Parmigiano Reggianno will last for ages! In a pinch, a simple ingredient like cheese can become the star of an hors d’oeuvres plate. Pair with both sweet and savory accompaniments (dried fruit, fresh fruit, spiced nuts, preserves, honey, crackers, etc.) and all of your guests will be diving in.
2) Mini-Champagne Bottles
…Because anything mini, is incrementally cuter. In all seriousness, it’s always great to have chilled champagne on hand. These mini bottles of bubbles are not only aesthetically appealing, but also much more practical and economical when making elegant pre-dinner drinks. When cocktail recipes only call for a “float” of champagne on top, it’s such a shame to pop open a full-size bottle that may not get consumed. Also, who would turn down bubbly you can sip through a straw!?
3) Pillsbury Crescent Roll Refrigerator Dough
Oh, Pillsbury Dough Boy, you’ve saved me more times than I’d like to admit! This dough-in-a-can is the chameleon of my refrigerator contents. From traditional, soft crescent rolls, to the “blanket” part of the classic appetizer, Pigs In A Blanket, to sophisticated parmesan cheese twists, this can of wonder does it all! If you’re on the quest for something sweet, a little sprinkle of cinnamon and sugar, a quick bake in the oven and you have yourself an easy, delicious churro for dipping into melted chocolate. Oh, and if you REALLY want to get fancy, spice up that chocolate with your favorite chili powder for a true Mexican-inspired treat!
4) Truffle Oil
Truffles have this earthy, musky quality that sounds completely terrible when trying to eloquently describe their flavor, but tastes absolutely divine. One of my favorite entertaining hacks is to pop some fresh popcorn (your favorite variety) and drizzle a bit of this oil on top with a sprinkle of salt, some fresh thyme/rosemary and a generous grating of parmesan cheese. The truffle oil makes a rather simple food like popcorn transform into something special and totally worthy of guests. It also happens to go great with cocktails!
5) Fig Preserves
Remember when I mentioned adding savory and sweet accoutrements to your cheese platter? Well, fig preserves is definitely my favorite. In addition to jazzing up a basic cheese plate, this spread also works wonders on a simple crostini with a slice of pear, prosciutto and crumble of gorgonzola. Mmmmm… Prepared fig preserves can generally be found in the jam/jelly aisle of your supermarket, or occasionally on display alongside the cheese section.
What are some of your best-kept secrets for elegant entertaining in a pinch?
Perhaps it’s because I’m hosting my daughter’s 3rd birthday party, my sister-in-law’s baby shower AND out-of-town guests all in the same month, party planning and favors have been on my mind lately. Unfortunately, this usually happens at 12:30 am, when I am trying to get my sleep on. Insomnia aside, playing hostess is something I’ve always loved to do. While over the years, the party occasions may have changed a little, as has the guest list (there ain’t no party like a toddler party!), one thing that has remained constant throughout is my affection for party favors. It’s become almost a personal signature of sorts.
At the conclusion of every hosted get-together, I make sure my guests leave with a little something special. This small token lets guests know how much we appreciate them coming into our home and I think it gives them a little bit of US to take back with them. Generally, I try to bake homemade cookies or muffins for guests to take on the way out the door. A craft paper bag trimmed with pinking shears, a quick hole punch and a ribbon tie is all it takes to make a simple cookie special.
The people we allow into our homes and into our lives deserve that.
Here are some other great favor ideas for your next occasion:
via Little Nostalgia
via Project Nursery
What are some of the special things YOU do for your guests?
Wow… it seems as though this past weekend went by on turbo speed! Every year, I am amazed at how quickly the months of November and December whiz by in a blur of parties, presents and food. Being the planner I am, I start thinking about what to wear a few weeks in advance. The worst thing ever is rushing to prep your house and menu for a party and not knowing what to wear 15 minutes before the first guests are expected. Yeah, that’s happened once or twice. A good hostess is supposed to look calm, cool and collected, right? This year, I found my perfect holiday entertaining look- some sparkles, some festive plaid, some jeans, and some leather. Right up my alley.
Aren’t those goldfish salad plates so cool? I found them on the clearance table of my local Anthropologie and thought they would be a fun addition to the very traditional Wedgewood pieces in our collection.
Nothing better than a hot cup of tea to calm some nerves before the big party. Actually, there is something better… WINE!
ASOS leather moto jacket (currently on SALE!) / J.Crew boy shirt in plaid (old, but THIS one is just as cool and 25% off!)/ KUT from the Kloth distressed boyfriend jeans (on SALE!) / Sam Edelman sequin embellished smoking slippers (a TJ Maxx find, but THESE or THESE are good alternatives) / J.Crew crystal collar necklace (old, but THIS one is lovely, and also on SALE!) / Target pearl and crystal multistand necklance / Zara leather colorblock citybag / Essie Bordeaux nail polish
Cheers to some great times ahead with friends and family!
Hi everyone! I hope you all had a fabulous weekend!
Since last week, I’ve done a much better job at finding my own balance. It really is a refreshing change of pace to be able to accomplish the goals/tasks you set out for yourself and actually enjoy the process in real time. I managed to fit in my work outs , do some significant blog work, bake 60 mini pumpkin and apple pies (don’t worry, I’ll be posting the details for that later this week!), construct 4 floral centerpieces and host a clam bake/surprise birthday party! Sometimes, I’m shocked at how productive we all can be if we just keep moving.
Here are a few tidbits from my weekend “ride”…
So, how was your “ride”?
Happy Hump-Day! We’ve successfully made it halfway through the week, folks. I think that’s perfect reason to celebrate… with a cocktail party of course!
Over the past 10 years, there have been numerous occasions when I’ve had to throw together a party with limited time and limited supplies. To be honest, sometimes my hubby and I just enjoy a spontaneous quiet night at home (hopefully, both kids are sound asleep) with some great cheeses, and great drinks. It’s a nice way to end the day and simultaneously feed my intense carb, dairy and alcohol cravings! At this point, I think I have the “Elegant Cocktail Party for Four” down to a science. Here is my formula:
quality pantry ingredients + meats/cheeses + fresh fruit + booze = A GOOD TIME
Let’s start in the pantry. The basics that I try to keep stocked include:
- Dried fruit- Cherries, apricots, figs… whatever you like best.
- Honey– I try to buy local artisenal honey at the farmers markets, but any kind of honey will do.
- Nuts– Seasoned or plain roasted… again, whatever you like best.
- Fig preserves– It’s sold in the jelly/preserves aisle of the grocery store and it’s YUMMY.
- Flat breads– I prefer Naan type breads, crisp on the outside, but really soft and tender inside when baked.
In my refrigerator, here are the basics that I have on hand:
- Berries– my kids love them, any extra at the end of the week go into smoothies, and there are a million recipes for any type of berry.
- Arugula or spinach– My favorite leafy green is definitely the peppery arugula, but if you’re looking for something milder, baby spinach is a good alternative.
- Cheese– I like to have 3 on hand: soft, medium and firm. The type vary week to week and based on my moods, but my all-time favorites are Saint Andre (triple cream French soft), Fontina (Italian medium-firm cow’s milk- also great for melting) and Comte (French firm cow’s milk cheese). I usually have a blue or Gorgonzola in there as well. Cheese addicted much? What can I say… I LOVE my cheese.
- Cured meats– I generally have a salami variety and a prosciutto available.
- Crescent rolls– Seriously, what CAN’T you use crescent rolls for?
- Lemons and limes
- French or Italian bread– this is actually found in my freezer. I buy it warm and fresh, wrap it well and store until I’m ready to use it. I slice thinly, spread on a baking sheet and drizzle with olive oil, salt and pepper. 10-15 min at 375 degrees and you have crostini!
I like to prepare a large wooden chopping block and display the cheeses along with their accoutrements (nuts, honey, dried fruit, berries). It allows your guests to mix and match and discover combinations that they enjoy. On a separate board, I display the sliced meats. Alongside the boards, you’ll find the breads. Easy.
In addition to this meat and cheese smorgasbord, I like to serve a flatbread. The type varies, based on what I have available in my party and refrigerator, but in the most recent instance it was a Fig, Prosciutto & Gorgonzola Flatbread topped with Baby Spinach lightly dressed with a balsamic vinaigrette. I generally make one per guest.
Lastly, what cocktail party is complete without a cocktail? One of my favorites that pairs well with the menu described is the Vanilla Lemon Thyme Martini. Sounds complicated. It’s not!
Fig, Prosciutto & Gorgonzola Flatbread topped with Baby Spinach
- 4 flat bread rounds
- 3/4 C fig preserves
- 1/3 lb prosciutto (sliced super thin)
- 1/4 lb gorgonzola or blue cheese
- 4 C spinach (or leafy green of your choice)
- Balsamic vinaigrette (store-bought or homemade)
- Layer each flatbread with approximately 3 TB of preserves, followed by slices of prosciutto.
- Crumble 2 TB of cheese on top of the prosciutto.
- Repeat process for all 4 flatbreads.
- Place assembled flatbreads on cookie sheet and bake for 15 min until cheese is slightly melted and bread has heated through and crisped slightly.
- While flatbreads are baking, lightly dress your greens.
- Top baked flatbreads with 1 C greens per round and serve!
Vanilla Lemon Thyme Martini
- 1 oz lemon-thyme simple syrup*
- 2.5 oz vanilla vodka
- 1 oz lemon Juice
- Float of prosecco
- Lemon slice
- Thyme sprig
Shake first three ingredients vigorously in martini shaker filled with ice. Strain into chilled martini glasses. Top off the cocktail with a float of good-quality prosecco and garnish with a slice of lemon and sprig of thyme. Serve!
* Lemon Thyme Simple Syrup
- 1/4 C granulated sugar
- 1/4 C water
- 1/2 a lemon sliced into thin rings
- 3-4 small sprigs of thyme
Place all ingredients into a small saucepan over medium heat. Stir frequently until mixture comes to a boil. Turn off flame and remove from heat. Let cool completely. Strain through a fine mesh sieve and store up to 3 days in your refrigerator.
So what are you waiting for? Call your closest friends (or not) and get those cocktails flowing! They’ll think you slaved all day in the kitchen. It will be our little secret.
Good morning! Can you believe it’s Monday already?
This past weekend was a blur of kids activities, normal household chores and plain-old family QT. One of the highlights, was hosting a brunch for some good friends and their beyond-adorable kids. Getting out regularly on a Friday or Saturday night is becoming an increasingly complicated proposition (not to mention expensive!), so I’ve taken to hosting friends at our home. It’s quieter, more relaxed and best of all, kid friendly! This time around, my goal was to get all of the preparations and cooking done ahead of time so I could entertain with minimal stress. I settled on a few of my go-to brunch dishes that are a snap to prepare, and even better: can be made 1-2 days in advance!
Greek yogurt, granola and berry parfaits
Spinach, turkey sausage and cheese strata
Blueberry lemon loaf
The granola recipe has been one of my staples this summer. I’ve used it as a topping on Greek yogurt, ice cream, and even eat it as a snack on its own. No chemicals, no preservatives and most ingredients I always have on hand in my pantry.
Lemon-Berry Homemade Granola
- 4 C old fashioned oats
- 1 C mixed dried berries (I used a combination of blueberries, cherries and raspberries)
- 1/2 C pecans (coarsely chopped)
- 1/2 C almonds (coarsely chopped)
- 1/4 tsp kosher salt
- 1/2 C butter
- 1/2 C honey
- Zest of 1 lemon
- Juice of 1/2 lemon
- Preheat oven to 300 degrees F.
- Cover sheet pan with non-stick foil or parchment paper.
- Place stick of butter, honey, lemon juice and zest into small saucepan over medium heat and allow mixture to melt, stirring occasionally.
- Combine oats, berries, nuts and salt in large bowl.
- When the butter mixture is melted, pour over dry oat/berry/nut/salt mix and stir gently until all of the butter has been incorporated and evenly coats the mix.
- Pour granola mixture onto prepared sheet-pan, and place on middle oven rack for approximately 40 minutes, or until the granola is a nice golden brown color.
- Remove from oven and allow to cool completely.
- When cooled, break up the granola into large chunks and store in an airtight container until ready to use.
This strata is a zipped up version of an old classic. I prepare it the night before, rest it overnight in the fridge and pop it into a hot oven an hour before entertaining. It’s puffed up and gorgeous when served and it looks like you slaved in the kitchen for hours.
Spinach, Turkey-Sausage and Cheese Strata
- 1 lb spicy Italian turkey sausage
- 1 (10 ounce) package frozen spinach, thawed, squeeze of all excess liquid, and chopped
- 1 1/2 C finely chopped onion (1 large)1 teaspoon salt
- 1/2 tsp black pepper
- 1/4 tsp freshly grated nutmeg
- 8 C cubed French or Italian bread in 1-inch cubes
- 6 oz coarsely grated mozzarella cheese (2 cups)
- 2 oz finely grated pepper jack cheese (1 cup)
- 2 3/4 C milk
- 9 large eggs
- 1/2 C finely grated parmesan cheese
- 1 large ripe tomato sliced into rounds
- Sauté sausage in preheated skillet coated with non-stick spray until cooked through and browned.
- Remove sausage meat and add onion to pan. Continue to cook over medium heat until soft, about 5 minutes.
- Add 1/2 teaspoon salt, 1/4 teaspoon pepper and nutmeg and continue cooking for one minute. Stir in spinach, remove from heat and set aside.
- Spread one third of the bread cubes in a well-buttered 3-quart gratin dish or other ceramic baking dish. Top with one-third of spinach mixture and one-third of mozzarella and pepper jack cheese. Repeat layering twice with remaining bread, spinach and cheese.
- Whisk eggs, milk, and remaining 1/2 tsp salt and 1/4 tsp pepper together in a large bowl and pour evenly over strata. Cover with plastic wrap and chill strata for at least 8 hours or up to a day.
- The next day, let it stand at room temperature for 30 minutes while preheating the oven to 350°F. Top strata with sliced tomatoes and sprinkle with 1/2 C parmesan cheese.
- Bake strata, uncovered, in middle of oven until puffed, golden brown, and cooked through, 45 to 55 minutes. Let stand 5 minutes before serving.
This recipe for blueberry loaf can easily be used for single serve muffins. I’ve also subbed blueberries for strawberries, the lemon for lime and coconut oil for the vegetable oil. Nothing better than a recipe that can multitask!
- 1-1/2 C + 1 tbsp all purpose flour, divided
- 2 tsp baking powder
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 1 C vanilla greek yogurt
- 1 C sugar
- 3 large eggs
- 2 tsp lemon zest (from 2 lemons)
- 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
- 1/2 C vegetable oil
- 1-1/2 cups blueberries, fresh or frozen
- Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Grease the bottom and sides of a 9×5″ loaf pan, dust with flour, and tap out excess.
- In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder, and salt.
- In a large bowl, whisk together the yogurt, sugar, eggs, lemon zest, vanilla, and oil.
- Slowly add the dry ingredients to the wet. In a separate bowl mix the blueberries with the 1 tbsp of flour and then gently fold them into the mixed batter.
- Pour the batter into the pan and bake 50-55 minutes, or until cake tester comes out clean.
- Let bread cool in the pan for 10 minutes, and then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.
Breakfast is perhaps my favorite meal of the day. I love the fact that is perfectly acceptable to eat something dessert-like and delicious before 9am! In the summer, with all of the amazing fruits and berries available, I am constantly on the hunt for the perfect recipe to use up some of this bounty. Well, I think I hit the mother-lode with this breakfast bar recipe. It’s easy, it’s just the right amount of sweet, and I’ve convinced myself that since it’s made with a copious amount of oatmeal (fiber), no refined sugar and a ton of fresh fruit, that it’s actually good for me too!
Stella’s Berry Oatmeal Breakfast (or any time of day!) Bars:
For the topping/crust:
- 1 1/2 cups old fashioned oats
- 1/2 cup flour
- 1/2 cup brown sugar (dark or light)
- 1/4 tsp baking soda
- 1/4 tsp salt
- 1/2 tsp cinnamon
- 6 TB melted unsalted butter
- 1/4 cup chopped/crushed pecans (reserve for the topping)
For the filling:
- 1 2/3 cup blueberries (or any berries you have available)
- 3 TB honey
- 2 tsp cornstarch
- Juice of 1/2 a lemon (about 3 tsp)
- 1/4 tsp cinnamon
- pinch of nutmeg
1) Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
2) Line a square (8×8) baking dish with parchment paper and spray liberally with non-stick spray.
3) In a large bowl mix together the oatmeal, flour, brown sugar, baking soda, salt and cinnamon.
4) Add the melted butter into the dry ingredients and mix together with a fork until a light crumb forms.
5) Press half the mixture into the bottom of the prepared baking dish and bake for 12 minutes.
6) While baking the crust, start preparing the berry filling by combining the berries, honey, cornstarch, lemon juice, cinnamon and nutmeg in a small saucepan over medium heat. Cook for approx 7 min, or until the mixture thickens.
7) Pour berry mixture over par-baked crust and top with remaining crumb mix.
8) Sprinkle chopped nuts on top.
9) Return baking dish to the oven and cook for approx another 30 minutes.
10) Let baking dish cool on wire rack before cutting into even squares.
Now, ready… set… DEVOUR!