Friday, April 5, 2013

Searching for Signs of Spring


Every winter I get to the point where I start to wonder if spring will ever arrive or if it will be winter forever. There's a degree of desperation that ensues on the cusp of winter and spring that forces me out the door and into the chilled bleak air to search for signs of life.
I started to look for signs of spring in ernest three weeks ago, taking rambling walks in Central Park and peering into tree pits, searching for any changes in the caked and dusty winter ground. Despite the cold and snowy weather I noticed crocuses in bloom, daffodil bulbs peaking up out of the soil, and willowy tree branches looking a bit more yellow around the edges (or was this just my imagination?).

Then last week the park staff was out in force, clearing and pruning and raking. The mulch wafted through the air, almost warming it. The daffodils popped up, and suddenly spring had sprung!
Now we are entering my favorite part of spring, when things begin to change so quickly that once June arrives it is hard to remember what the trees even looked like without their leaves.
This is all a long-winded way of saying that getting out for a daily walk to look for signs of spring is a great way to enjoy the ephemeral spring season! Sometimes I go by myself, sometime I go with a friend. It is a treasure hunt-like activity: identifying new growth and taking photos. Last week I even found myself meeting a friend in the park for an evening stroll to find daffodils instead of our usual happy hour joint and draft beer.

Sunday, March 31, 2013

A thimble full of spring

Another egg to add to your Easter-addled brain! I cracked a large hole in this one, filled it with pebbles on the bottom, dirt on top, and planted a tiny flower inside. The trick was to get it to stand up straight and not roll off the table. I put a glob of Blu Tack underneath to hold the shell in place.

Thursday, March 28, 2013

The Greatest Egg

Please accept my apologies for the lack of posts over the last few months. I suppose I have been hibernating this winter. But now in preparation for spring I give you: The Easter Egg!

Here's a survey of my favorite egg decorating ideas this year. There are so many creative ways to decorate an egg aside from the ubiquitous PAAS dyes. This year I've focused on ideas that utilize household items. So get out your dyes, ties, paints and pens and get crafty. 
Personally, I'll be rhinestoning an egg (in honor of my work in the world of bedazzling, i.e. costume design).

A great idea for showcasing those early signs of spring. Plus you can use edible hard boiled eggs, or blow them out and reuse them the next year.

Image via No. 2 Pencil
Give your eggs some hipster cache with mustaches!

Image via Aunt Peaches
Aunt Peaches has a great tutorial for making these unusual tissue paper and parsley beauties.

Image via ObviouslySweet
"Scandi"fy your Easter eggs with a sharpie.

Image via Design*Sponge
Use images from a flower catalogue to make a floral collage.

Image via BooBahBlue on Etsy
Did you know you can use patterned silk ties to dye eggs? BooBahBlue offers silk dyeing egg kits on Etsy.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Advent Calendar Round-Up

Remember those crappy cardboard and glitter advent calendars of yester-years?  The doors are officially open to a new age of counting down to Christmas!  These are some of my favorites this year that provide a magical spectacle and really pack a punch.

via Pickles
I especially love this one because it can be used year after year, only takes the tiniest of presents, and can be rolled up and stored away with ease.

Handsome image and idea, though I think the larger gifts should be saved for Christmas itself.  Let's not get ahead of ourselves here....

This is made out of small tins.  They could be magnetized to stick to the refrigerator door...

Start saving those matchboxes!  This is adorable.

I do like the ones using clothespins.  This minimalist design looks nice with variously wrapped packages, but also with nothing attached.

A great use for all those cardboard toilet paper rolls.

Finding 25 tiny gifts can be a challenge.  I usually find myself in Chinatown buying some erasers, wind up toys, stickers, candies.  I also try to get some useful items in there like chapstick, samples from Kiehl's, ribbons for wrapping Christmas gifts, little packages of nails, thumbtacks, wire ornament hooks, and tiny Christmas tree ornaments.  Any other ideas?

Sunday, November 25, 2012

And now for something Completely Different (i.e. Slightly Different)

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Change was in the air this fall as we gathered together to discuss our Thanksgiving menu.  We all agreed we needed to shake things up a bit: we were tired of making the same exact recipes year after year.  My parents go to Santa Fe every fall and return home with incredibly flavorful chile powders and whole dried chiles from the farmers' market there.  We are always struggling to find new uses for these flavors before the next round arrives.  With all these chiles at our fingertips we decided that this year would be a showcase of New Mexican flavors, in other words a Southwest Thanksgiving.  And of course everything would be different....
We sat down together to discuss the menu of new and different dishes we were going to prepare, only to find that every one of us had a dish (or two) that we apparently couldn't live without for our Thanksgiving feast.  Personally, I couldn't give up the cranberry sauce my mom has made for years.  My dad had to have the mashed potatoes.  Gravy was a non-negotiable for my mom.  Making something new and different was going to be harder than we had expected.
We came to the realization that it was our own traditionalist tendencies that kept us in a Thanksgiving "rut", and that really what was so wrong with that?  If we cared so much about keeping particular dishes in the Thanksgiving canon, then we had better embrace our "rut".
Needless to say, we mostly altered traditional Thanksgiving dishes, giving them a twist instead of having something completely different.  We had a lot of fun researching recipes and identifying "Southwestern" ingredients.  We tried to incorporate the "three sisters": squash, corn and beans.  These three grow well together because they help nourish one another, and they are a common combination in  traditional Southwest Indian diets.  We asked friends for their recipe suggestions, and even received in the mail a stack of New Mexican magazines with recipes from friends in Santa Fe.  And, I think we all had a pretty good time arguing about what recipes could and couldn't change.

Ultimately, this was our Southwest Thanksgiving menu:

Nibbles before dinner:

Pecan-Chile Dip
Roasted Chile-Pumpkin Seed Salsa
Tortilla Chips
Fresh Vegetables
Spiced Pumpkin Seeds

The dinner:

Butternut Squash Soup with Cayenne and Sauteed Mushrooms

Chile-Rubbed Turkey 
Cornbread Dressing with Poblano Peppers and Chorizo Sausage
Mashed Potatoes with Chicos (smoked and dried corn kernels)
Roasted Brussels Sprouts with Cilantro-Lime Pesto
Cranberry Sauce (the usual recipe with orange and walnuts)
Cranberry Sauce with Jalapeno and other earthy peppers
Pickled Red Onions


Pumpkin Pie
Pecan Pie
Ginger Ice Cream
Chocolate Chile Truffles
Caramel Popcorn
Chocolate Pecan Bark

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Hors d'oeuvres

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The bird

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The spread: (Clockwise from top left) The Turkey, Cornbread Dressing, Cranberry Sauce, Pickled Onions, Roasted Chile Salsa, Brussels Sprouts, Mashed Potatoes.

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My heaping plate

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Chocolate Chile Truffles

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Caramel Popcorn and Chocolate Pecan Bark

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All gone....

Table decor included a mix of gourds and cactus pears with a sprinkling of paper cactus cocktail stirrers for good measure.  I managed to ignore the whole "cactus" part of the cactus pears when I bought them.  I picked each one up, rolled it over to check the color on all sides, and then stood in line to check out with them cradled in my arms.  Do NOT follow my lead on this one!  I had very uncomfortable invisible cactus spines in my hands for a few hours.
The cactus cocktail stirrers I bought in Chinatown, cut the wooden pick down to about an inch long, and stuck the ends into rounds of cucumber to stand them up straight on the table.
I'm thinking maybe we'll improve upon the Southwest theme next year.  A few ideas for next time:
- Crumble the cornbread in the dressing in larger chunks
- Write out the menu on a board or mirror for guests to refer to
- Watch your hands on the prickly cactus pears

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Gourds, Cactus pears and Cactus cocktail stirrers amidst votive candles

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Gourds and cactus: Mixed messages? Perhaps, but we're allowed to on Thanksgiving

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The garden

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     A few leftover bottles of wine chillin' in the garden

Thursday, November 22, 2012

An All Day Affair: Thanksgiving Prep

TheOccasionist, AllDayCooking6

One thing I love about Thanksgiving is waking up in the morning, turning on the oven, and using it all day.  There are so many dishes to make, the kitchen becomes a stage and the cooks become performers dancing between one another, juggling knives and balancing pans.
This probably sounds absolutely dreadful to some though.  I happen to enjoy cooking, and have prepared Thanksgiving dinner with seasoned cooks who know the kitchen we use together and are organized and thoughtful about sharing the space.  However, I know that preparing the Thanksgiving meal can be a pretty stressful event.  So I like to think of it as a whole day of celebration rather than putting all the focus on the meal.  For me it begins with the preparation: Planning the menu, doing the grocery shopping, assigning tasks, beginning to cook, lots of pots of tea which melt into glasses of wine as the time comes to actually eat.
What are your Thanksgiving traditions besides the eating part?  A walk in the woods?  The Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade?  A quiet breakfast at your favorite diner?  Whatever you do on Thanksgiving, remember that the meal itself is only a fraction of the occasion and that there are many ways to make it memorable.

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Preparations begin with plenty of tea on hand

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Caramel popcorn

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Rolling the chocolate chile truffles

TheOccasionist, AllDayCooking5 by ElizabethVanBuren
Two sauces: Pecan-chile sauce and Roasted chile-pumpkin seed salsa

Can you guess what our theme is this year?  .... Southwest Thanksgiving!


Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Wedding of Whimsy

I'm still trying to figure out what makes a wedding great, but this was definitely one of the most creatively handcrafted and whimsical I've attended.  Apologies for the quality of photographs -- I went camera-less, but found myself overwhelmed by the ebullient details and had to resort to my phone's camera.

After the ceremony, we processed through the streets of the West Village with makeshift instruments, giant garlands of paper flowers and a group of whimsically masked and costumed revelers. 

Arriving at the 14th Street Subway Station, we all boarded the train bound for the reception in Queens.  The bride and groom found seats directly under an illustrated subway poster of a subway car scene with a cast of NYC characters colorfully represented.  It seemed to reflect our own parade of merry-makers.

Arriving at the reception, we were faced with tables laden with food and flowers, reminiscent of a medieval feast.


The "wedding cake" was the most ethereal and enchanting I have seen.  Made by the father of the bride, it was a whirl of branches bent together and fitted with wire "nests" full of cream puffs.  The most delicious cream puffs I have ever eaten!

The traditional bride and groom cake topper snuck itself into the tree as well.

The reception space was hung with hand dyed paper banners and fairy lights.

The view of the Manhattan skyline was breathtaking, especially with the party reflected in the window.

Details really help to set the tone of a party and invite guests to experience the events in particular ways.  The details of this wedding set a tone of abundance and abandon, and gleeful originality.  This kind of energy is catching, and it caught on fast with the guests who added their own fodder and exuberance, making it a memorable occasion for our bride and groom.