No Pressure, But… (Holiday Edition)

November 14, 2012 § Leave a comment

It’s that time of year again: The Holidays.

You will probably remember that I am not a fan on account of all the rushing and general insanity this time of year brings. But I have made a little promise to myself not to be so Grinch-y this year.

Sadly, that does not exonerate me from the planning and prep, which does make the actual events of the season go much more smoothly. And since things can get so hectic at year end, I get started early to avoid finding myself In The Soup. So, in order to discourage you from getting into The Soup yourselves, here are some of the things I rely on quite heavily this time of year:

Wrapping

Paper Mojo (www.papermojo.com)

These folks have the most lovely gift wrap, available by the sheet, so that you don’t have to commit too heavily to one or two styles. And as an added bonus, you don’t have to wrangle those long rolls of paper, which is one of my least favorite things to do.

As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, I don’t really do “holiday” themed wrapping — I just try to put interesting combinations together that hopefully feel delightful. This year I went gaga over PM’s Chiyogami and Katazome papers, and wound up doing a larger selection than usual. But I could not help myself and I honestly can’t wait to see them all.

One King’s Lane (onekingslane.com)

They regularly have gift wrap available  and if you free yourself from the need to have specific holiday-themed papers, you can purchase it whenever, and use it now and later. Their prices are pretty good as well, which makes wrapping larger gifts feel less painful. Order early as they take time to ship.

Kate’s Paperie (www.katespaperie.com)

Oh, yes. They have been around forever and while I can’t go into the store without some kind of beta blocker, I find their house brand of ribbon to be perfect for almost anything. So, I heavy up this time of year and use leftovers until I run out. Order online to keep the insanity level low.

Dempsey & Carroll (http://www.dempseyandcarroll.com)

Here’s the thing about Dempsey & Carroll: If you look hard enough, you will find things that are well made but aren’t trying too hard. Since my wrapping will be on the effusive side this year, I just purchased enough of their cream colored gift cards for slipping under the ribbon of each package. It is just enough space to put a little something sweet without having to go on forever. Because let’s face it: People want to open the gift. And a long card feels like all those trailers you need to watch before the movie.

Gifting

Our company gift and recipient list is all taken care of by October. But that still leaves me with around forty — yes, forty…4-0* — gifts to buy for family, friends, colleagues and all the wonderful people who do so much for us year round. Need I say I use a fierce little spreadsheet to track it all? I do. It eliminates confusion and puts the attention back on the gifts themselves, which is more fun.

For hostess gifts and other smaller tokens,  I always opt for something a little luxurious or totally delicious. A fabulous nail polish (Chanel, Tom Ford, YSL), fresh yummy baked goods,  mini Diptyque candles…stuff I buy to treat myself that I think others will also enjoy.  You can find these things at the usual places, but that does not mean I don’t like a good deal, so I also like One King’s Lane for some of these items. And I really can’t tell you how much people love things from Zingerman’s (https://www.zingermans.com). I do, too. So I guess it all makes sense. Oh, and did you know that Russ and Daughters ships?? They do. So I do, too. (http://russanddaughters.com)

As for the children in our life, I love The Land of Nod (landofnod.com). With careful digging, one can find really great things that seem to go over quite well with the Wee Folk. I always try to include an art project or two for children that will be home for the holiday break. I figure that leaves one less activity that their parents need to plan, and it doesn’t create as much long-term clutter.

More personal gifts for good friends and family are always harder, but I do think that experiences (concert or show tickets, dinners to a new or favorite place) are always nice presents for people who have all the sweaters, pjs and electronics that they need. I’ve also had great luck online with 1st Dibs (1stdibs.com), Net-A-Porter (just add the “.com”), Ruby Lane (yeah…add that “.com” again), Paul Smith (www.paulsmith.com) and Design Within Reach (dwr.com). And nothing beats taking a little time to go hunting for that perfect thing in some well-known or off the beaten path place. You know the drill.

Still, my absolute favorite gift to give and receive is one that takes the pressure off: A commitment to spend time together after the holidays. I do this with one of my dearest friends — usually spa and lunch. It gives us time to catch up and unwind. What better present for a Bestie?

Decking

If you don’t have time to mess with assembling your own greenery and the like, White Flower Farm (www.whiteflowerfarm.com) does a bang up job with pre-assembled boughs and wreaths. L.L. Bean is also an able contender in this category. (www.llbean.com) I try to keep things simple, so I just fill the place with paperwhites, amaryllis, and the usual greenery. And this year I am trying something new: battery powered lights from Restoration Hardware. You can use them for covered outdoor areas and I am hoping they will eliminate the need for the troublesome cord that always hangs down the table where we keep our little tree** in the city. Fingers crossed and full report TK.

Making Merry

I don’t host every holiday, but for the ones that I am responsible for I do try my best to follow The Ina (Garten) Principle: Keep it simple and delicious. Honestly, there is not one cookbook of hers that I do not love — the recipes always work and are not hard at all. That said, I have evolved into a pretty good Just Cook What Looks Good kind of person, so that is generally what I do. This year we are hosting Thanksgiving, so the menu will consist of whatever arrives my CSA box (yes, it includes a turkey), fresh cranberry sauce and Classic Joy of Cooking Stuffing. Oh, and Ginger Cake from Zingerman’s (I really hate baking) and some good wine of Mr. H’s selection. Pinot and Turkey? Maybe a Zin? We shall see…

For pre- and post-holiday visitors, I like to do cozy things like fresh pasta with bolognese, braised short rib and roasted vegetables and maybe a baked fruit of some kind. Easy but not Everyday. And do not forget the power of the Cheese and Charcuterie Plate!! Or the festive feeling that sparkling wine and a little canapé tray can lend to any occasion.

Savoring

This is a major Development Area for me. Work is nuts, there is the added pressure of the above AND the need to feel like This Is The Most Wonderful Time Of The Year, even though you are exhausted, possible cold, and probably (if you are me) cranky.

All that said, I am going to make a real effort to appreciate the decking, make time to Make Merry and to take care of myself (early to bed when I can, keeping up with cardio and pilates, and eating a cookie now and again) as a gift to myself. Care to join me?

xx

* We’ve been over this, right? Forget The Godfather, almost all the answers to life’s questions are answered in All About Eve.

** I cannot extol the virtues of the Table Tree enough. I used to do giant trees, which always resulted in a foul mood on my part.  But with the Table Tree, in under an hour I get the same effect and no dogs snooping around the presents or drinking tree water. Like!

(Photo of a bit of 2011’s Wrap-Mania: Some Cozy Night)

It Does Not Take a Lot of time to Have a Little Yum

July 3, 2012 § Leave a comment

Just a quickie for a little inspiration.

My herb and tomato plants are doing nicely, and Mr. H sent me this photo of some of our yield from earlier today:

Pictured here is some delicious yellow grape and brown cherry tomatoes, basil (we have TONS of basil…pesto soon), mint and marjoram.* I like to combine these things with a little cheese on some multigrain toast for breakfast or a snack. Yum!

Enjoy the 4th!

xx

*Please note that marjoram is lovely with all kinds of other herbs, so mix it up. And is smells heavenly, so don’t be afraid to put some in a bud vase.

(Photo: Mr. H for Some Cozy Night. And the salt is Maldon…Gwennie isn’t a dope all the time.)

The Perfect Excuse

January 21, 2012 § Leave a comment

Happy Saturday! I stumbled out of bed after a 36-hour bug to find this outside my window:

“Did it snow?” I asked myself. I checked again. Yes, it had. Even though the weather report had not indicated that we would be getting more than an inch or two and I was not convinced we would get any. For the record, we definitely got more than and inch or two.

I surveyed my options and while the thought of building a snowman crossed my mind, after assessing the accumulation a little more closely while out with A+O, I decided my best course of action was a day indoors. A perfect excuse to catch up on some reading…

I have been meaning to get to this Jansen book for well over a year. And it is fascinating. (As is Know Your Rodent, but that is a much quicker read.) While reading about the many amazing homes this venerated design firm decorated well into the later part of the 20th century, I began to get The Craving to order a few more books on some of the more infamous and glamourous figures who made up much of Jansen’s clientele and their circle, including the Mitford sisters and Nancy Lancaster. It seems to me that these topics could take me through a number of other snowy days and it is totally possible that this weather is here for a spell:

Really, who wants to go out in that, which isn’t even as bad as it could get. Much better to be curled up with a book and a dog, I say.

So, I fixed the fire…

Which enabled Mr. H to build upon said fire…

Leaving me with nothing to do but order my books, keep reading and then make dinner for friends*, starring a fresh bolognese from Marcella Hazan, who is pretty much that last word in these matters.

So, it will have been basically a day of loafing and pasta-eating, which we all need from time to time. So, thank you very much Surprise Snowfall.

xx

*Although even that might be a Mr. H production. At least I set the table. And pulled out the necessary ingredients.

(Photos: Some Cozy Night, who left her good camera in the city.)

Awesome Wife Production

January 9, 2012 § Leave a comment

So, I went a little nuts yesterday and spent the day cooking and freezing to make at-home dinners a little more within our grasp. The goal was to make several soups, a few things with our beef*, and a number of sides and sauces that will enable me to cook up a chop or two, make a salad or get some nice cheese and call it a meal.

When I began at noon, I didn’t really think about the end game exactly. I just bought a ton of stuff and got down to cooking. Here is some of the fruit of my labor:

Please note that it is very hard to make edible food look nice in a photo. But this was my “cooling” center where prepared food was left to get cool enough to freeze and avoid freezer burn.

A recent Development Area that I decided to work on in earnest this year was to begin labeling the things I make and freeze. No matter how certain I am that “I’ll remember”, I do not. And it is silly to pretend that I will. So, here are my very casual labels.

And here is the end result, with everything in the freezer.** Again, not pretty pictures, but I am still pretty proud. In fact, it was around this time, either in a fit of delirium or just too much dancing around the kitchen to the Scissor Sisters, that I proclaimed myself “An Awesome Wife” for doing all this stuff.

So, what did I make? I’ll tell you:

– Three containers of Roasted Veggie Soup with Spelt Pasta
– Three containers of Escarole, Bean and Sausage Soup
– Two Sautéed Broccoli and Pine Nuts for use over pasta or as a side
– Two Sautéed Brocoli Rabe with Garlic and Red Pepper as a side
– Two Sautéed Bok Choy, Ginger and Mushrooms to be combined with thin chicken slices at dinner time
– Two Sautéed Kale with Onions and Red Pepper as a side
– Five mini-meat loaves
– Thirty meat balls
– Five containers of Tomato, Basil and Garlic sauce, for use with said meat balls

I finished at around 7PM, just in time to have a little dinner, wash all the food off of me and settle in for my reward: the season premier of Downton Abbey. A very good end to an Awesome Wife Production indeed.

xx

* Have I mentioned that Mr. H and I do a beef share every year with about ten friends? It sounds nuts but it is excellent.

** And there’s the beef. And some lamb from our CSA. And other important items like ice cream. (You have to have priorities.)

(Photos: Mr. H, who also put everything into the freezer for me. That was an Awesome Husband Production.)

And We’re Back…

January 3, 2012 § Leave a comment

The Disconnection is officially over and I am here at my lovely desk waiting for the coming storm to hit. So far, so good. I’ve gone through all the mail (seriously: I thought we were in the digital age…what’s with all these catalogs???), changed my voicemail message, reconnected with my team to see what’s what and am now moving on to Bigger Things.

In the meantime, I thought it would be a good idea to pep up the place a tad, so I bought myself some flowers. (And added some for the entry of the office, too. Everyone can use a little extra cheer on the first day back, no?)

Other things one can do to lessen the blow:

Plan a few social things
It can be anything from meeting someone for a drink to going to the ballet. Just something fun to give you A Lift, as my Grandmother would say.

Straighten Up Something
I’ve been seeing Facebook status reports that boarder on bragging about how much cleaning and organizing they had completed before the end of the year. I am happy for them, but between you and me, I think it is far less taxing to take things one step at a time. Before I left for the holidays, I straightened out all my sweaters. I was ever so pleased to find them all neat and tidy when I came home. Tonight, the big goal is to tidy up the drawer of my bedside table. Slow and steady, my friends.

Make a new outfit
No pressure…just see if you can’t find a new way to wear some of your old favorites. Even if it is just wearing a different top with your favorite pants. Free and very satisfying.

Cook Something Delicious
Nothing hard, mind you. If you live someplace where it is cold, I recommend a very simple roasted vegetable soup*.

And that is all I have for now.

xx

*Super-easy Roasted Veggie Soup

– One onion, diced
– Two or three stalks of celery, cut into 1/2 inch pieces
– Two or three carrots, cut into 1/2 inch pieces
– 1 Pint of grape tomatoes
– 1 bay leaf
– 4 cups of chicken stock
– Olive oil
– Salt and Pepper to taste

1) Set the oven to 350 degrees
2) Put all the veggies on a parchment-lined baking sheet (tomatoes on a separate one); toss with olive oil, salt and pepper and roast in the oven for about 25 – 30 minutes.
3) Put the stock in a pot, pop in the veggies, bay leaf, salt and pepper and bring to a boil

Serve with a little fresh parsley and grated parmesan. Also, feel free to add a little pasta, rice or whole grain for a little extra bulk. And a glass of red wine would not kill you.

(Photo of where my flowers will go when they arrive: Some Cozy Night, who is waiting for them ever so patiently.)

Retro Leftovers

December 28, 2011 § Leave a comment

I decided to go super-traditional this year with Christmas and made a giant turkey. Mr. H was kind enough to brine it without our usual giant brining bin, and even upped the ante by roasting the bird himself. (I suppose that means that I did not make a turkey on Christmas, then, does it? Well, at least I planned the menu.) I am happy to report that it came out beautifully, but since we could not pawn all the leftover meat on to our relatives, we had a little situation. One that not only included leftover turkey, but also a sizable bag of fresh mushrooms that my Mother brought over because…well…I guess it was because she had them and was leaving for Florida the next day.

Those leftovers felt like a time bomb in my refrigerator. I had to do something with them quickly and preferably something that was not disgusting. I was thinking a pot pie could be the answer, but the mushrooms seemed out of place. Thankfully, my old Joy of Cooking had a better idea: Turkey Ala King. Yes, that stew-like dish from, I think, the fifties. I had never made it before since I do not live in the fifties, but the main ingredients were turkey and mushrooms, so I dove in…

 

While not exactly photogenic, it was extremely delicious. And although I tend to prepare fare that is more of this century, I do have a thing for vintage cookbooks…

 

I love their covers and the wonderful illustrations that can often be found in them. Most of mine are back in the city, but I have a few here that make great reading:  MFK Fisher is a must for any foodie, and a personal favorite of mine,  Liberace Cooks!* , is a treasure for anyone who appreciates the absurd.

 

xx

* I came to know of this cookbook while searching online for others for my collection. (Alibris and Abe’s Books are good sources.) I know the sixties and seventies were a different time, but how could any publisher think a Liberace cookbook would be a great bit of cross marketing? I just don’t know. I mean, does Cher have a cookbook? (Don’t answer that.) Anyway, Mr. H made sure I got a copy for Christmas last year. Like I said, he gets me.

 

(Photos: Some Cozy Night. And I am saving my Liberace Cooks! photos for when I can post about the bio-pic of Mr. Showmanship,  starring Michael Douglas. Yes, this is really happening. Yay.)

Getting Cozy

December 22, 2011 § Leave a comment

If you have been with me since the beginning, you may recall that last year I started this project while on my break between Christmas and New Year’s Day. Mr. H and I close our company for the week so that we can disconnect as much as this highly connected world allows. And generally, we spend that time by the beach.

Since swimming and sunbathing are not options this time of year — New York is weather challenged — prior to Disconnection it is essential to make sure that we have everything on hand for a proper time of indoor rest and relaxation. The focus of my efforts is on two things very dear to my heart: Eating and Being Entertained

Eating

Ensuring the proper complement of goodies to enjoy while resting requires both planning and cheating. Under “Planning” we have a stop at my favorite cheese shop in town and its equivalent by the beach (I never remember everything). New Year’s Eve nibbles are on order for delivery next week, and I am slowly working myself out of my Holiday Cold Haze to purchase the other ingredients needed for dinner on Christmas Day. (Note to self: Pack that turkey.)

As for the “Cheating”, I’ll be serving a ginger cake from Zingerman’s instead of making one myself on Christmas Day, as well as their cinnamon buns for the following morning, since I just can’t knead this year.**

Finally, Mr. H has made sure that the bar is stocked, including a supply of lemons and limes, a fresh Soda Stream cartridge* and ice made with the giant ice cube tray*.

Entertainment

Aside from long walks with A+O, Disconnection generally involves a stack of magazines, Pandora, an Intended Reading List and an idea of movies we’ve been meaning to see or want to watch again. These have all been gathered, although I could stand to spend a few extra minutes planning out the movie selection. I believe “Iron Lady” will top the list, even though we’ll need to leave the house to see it. Suggestions welcome.

Not to be Forgotten…

1) Firewood! Essential to being truly cozy. Kindling and newspapers are also very much required. (Good thing I’ve been reading all those Financial Times this month.)

2) Facial Masks and other Treatments that can be done since you are home anyway. My newest love is Sonya Dakar’s Nano Mask. I have no idea what is “nano” about it, but after 15 minutes, my skin feels plumper which is the only place I ever wish to feel that way.

3) My loved ones, since Disconnecting without them would make the whole endeavor pointless — and not at all fun.

So there you have it: A little bit of effort, but not so much that I wind up blowing off the preparation entirely and find myself bored instead of blissed. And I didn’t even use Excel for this one. Yay!

xx

* These are life-changing items:

The Soda Stream:  http://www.sodastreamusa.com/store.aspx?gclid=CIfHxuuHlq0CFQXd4Aodu30OoA

BIG Ice Cube Tray (Big cubes, less water in your drink.): http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B00395FHRO/ref=pd_lpo_k2_dp_sr_1?pf_rd_p=486539851&pf_rd_s=lpo-top-stripe-1&pf_rd_t=201&pf_rd_i=B003DR4W4C&pf_rd_m=ATVPDKIKX0DER&pf_rd_r=1KK82YBAA8FD18R11CKA

** When I can, however, Nigella Lawson’s Norwegian Cinnamon Bun recipe from How to be a Domestic Goddess is my favorite. Just don’t use wax paper in place of parchment, even though it says you that you can. You can’t.

(Photos: Some Cozy Night)

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