Summer Celebrating

I love summer for so many reasons, but especially for the salads and fruit desserts that I make at this time of year. Even though we can get the ingredients for these recipes all year I still tend to make them primarily when the weather is warm and the living is easy.  I thought I would put some of my favorite recipe links in one place in case you were looking for some simple but flavorful dishes.

Blueberry Tart

Potato Salad

Tortellini Salad

Deviled Eggs

And lastly, I could not come up with anything cuter than Emily Henderson‘s idea for a great Fourth of July party with kids (although she doesn’t mention food, just decor and games).  It is such a fun and adorable post though, I think everyone should see it and wish they were invited over to her place.

I agree with her idea (which is sort of what I have done) of gathering up your blue and white “stuff” and just adding red through food or other items – flowers – or clothing.  Then you have a red, white and blue party without investing in a bunch of kitschy party items you have to store.

I will bet you have a lot more blue and white around your house than you thought.  Put out some strawberries and watermelon on your table and you are good to go.

Happy Fourth of July!

Getting Ready for Summer

  We finally had a nice warm day this past week,  where it just felt good to be outside getting rid of winter’s debris and cleaning up the dining furniture.  It’s a little like playing house; I clean and rearrange, plan my purchases of annuals for all of the containers.

This year I left my furniture out in the weather.  Cold weather came on suddenly, then left just as quickly.

Never buy a glass-topped table for your garden.  Yes, that is glass.  I will scrub it with a steel brush and water to remove the grime that has adhered over the winter.  I am looking for a replacement but not sure what I want to get so this is it for the meantime.

We bought this “set” of table and chairs at a garage sale years ago.  I still love the chairs’ vintage vibe.  I did have them professionally recoated and that has been a good investment.  It will be pretty easy to clean them off.  And yes, I should put them in storage for the winter.  Now, after a good scrub down, I am not embarrassed for anyone to sit down.

I plan my trip to the plant nursery carefully. I have found that it is a good idea to go  there on a cloudy day. The most popular nursery in our area is so busy on the initial sunny days of spring that they have  people directing traffic in the parking lot.  Having to negotiate crowds and lines makes me too tired to garden when I get home.  If you go on a cloudy day, during the week if possible, you will find a good selection and plenty of help.  I also try to have a color scheme, although it is hard to stick with.  A lot of impulse buying happens at the garden center.  Lately I’ve been buying flowers in flats to save time and money.  If I go before our last frost date the seedlings will keep well in the garage for a week or two.

I also get my pots and potting soil ready for planting.  If I haven’t already, I dump the old potting soil in the compost and start fresh with new potting soil.  That way my plants will have the best nourishment for growth and bloom.

As I mentioned, we need a new outdoor dining table.  We also need more comfortable  lounge chairs for a small deck closer to the back door.   Luckily Emily Henderson just did a round up of good options.  I struggle with  the issue of  spending any money on outdoor furniture since we are not outside that much.  You see, we have a lot of mosquitoes here in northern Virginia.  They love Mr. DB but me, not so much.  I am looking into solutions that work because it’s no fun sitting outside alone.

I added these pillows to our iron furniture to give it a little more comfort and color.  And that has been a good solution .

I am really looking forward to enjoying my favorite season, mosquitoes or not!

 

The Vegetarian at the Dinner Party

How do you handle the vegetarian dinner guest is the question for today.  Hopefully you have been informed ahead of time that one of your guests is a vegetarian.  The next thought is how to accommodate your guest without having to take on a lot of extra work.

Obviously you want all of your guests to feel welcome and accepted. To that end I have tried various options and I’m still not sure which is the best.  Here’s what I’ve done in the past.

Option 1:  Make a special dish for the vegetarian only.  Once I made a bolognese sauce for my non-vegetarian guests and a zucchini pasta for the vegetarians.  The problem was that the vegetarian pasta ended up getting passed around and the meat-lovers tried it as well.  Oops.  I had not made enough for everyone to have the vegetarian option.   But, it would be relatively easy to make pasta with two different toppings, one meat and one vegetarian which is what I would do next time.  My vegetarian topping was super easy:  Roast sliced zucchini drizzled in olive oil and sea salt for 20 minutes in the oven.  Place the roasted zucchini in a bowl and combine with your favorite jarred tomato sauce.  Everyone loved it!

Option 2:  Everyone could be vegetarian for a night.  I have some good vegetarian recipes and we do eat vegetarian a couple of nights a week around here.  Mr. DB isn’t crazy about this idea though, feeling that when you have guests you should roll out your best and fanciest meal.  For him that usually means a meal that includes meat.

 

Option 3:  The focal point of your meal could be meat, such as Prime Rib or Roasted Chicken and you can have a lot of vegetable sides.  Also, it’s always good to have bread.

My vegetarian friends are not fussy and usually say that they will make a meal out of the side dishes or whatever.  But, we have occasionally had a work colleague or someone we don’t know as well who is vegetarian and we want them to feel welcome.  I mean we want everyone to feel welcome and be fed.

What do you do when you have a mixed crowd at dinner?  I’m sure there are some options I haven’t thought of.

Here are a few vegetarian recipes I plan to try:

Vegetarian Red Beans and Rice

Roasted Eggplant Pasta

Zucchini Quiche

Neglect and Dirt I noticed while Prepping for Guests

We belong to a group that takes turns hosting a dinner party every month.  Our turn hosting is this Saturday so I have been trying to do a little prep every day to get ready.

As I prepare to have friends over,  I start seeing my rooms as my guests see them and then  all the little imperfections come to light.   But if I don’t get this vision until the day of the party, as sometimes happens, then I feel overwhelmed with little cleaning or decorating details that are tangential to the party.

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Our Dining Room at Christmas

We are having some family over for dinner this weekend which is the motivation I needed to  finish putting a few holiday touches in the dining room.  My decorating had stalled  after the initial burst of getting it done early.   Is there such a thing as decorating fatigue?  Yes, I think it’s a thing.

But there is nothing like having company to get me going again.

The greenery on the mirror is new this year.  Having that swag on the top of the mirror does draw your eye to this side of the room.

 

And the centerpiece on the table varies from year to year.  This one is more simple than in the past.  I used faux greenery with some pillars and ornaments.  I  dried the artichokes back in the fall which is pretty simple to do.  You basically just leave fresh artichokes out on a counter and they dry, retaining their shape perfectly.  When the Christmas season rolled around it seemed that they needed to be spray painted gold.  What a budget friendly item they have turned out to be!

My sister gave me this Spode Christmas china.  I look forward to using it every year.  Traditions give us the continuity and unity of the past.  But I do like to update and tweak too.

Honestly I did not have much going on over here on the sideboard.  But I decided it would be a good place to stage my dessert plates.  I usually use this area for wine and side dishes when we have guests over.

The chandelier is always the same.  I found that hanging ornament at TJ Maxx a few years ago and this has always been the perfect spot for it.  I keep those gold spray painted hydrangeas from year to year.

 

And here is another new variation: some greenery and lights on the armoire.  This end of the room is always dark and it finally occurred to me that a few lights up here would remedy the situation.  I might just leave those up year round.  I don’t think it would be weird.

What’s on the menu, you ask?  I am making Jamie Oliver’s recipe for lamb shanks.  It’s really good!

Ten days until Christmas!  Are you ready?

Linking with Remodelaholic.

 

 

 

 

Holiday Preparations

For some reason (am I forgetting something??) I have a little free time these days. But I know the pace will pick up so I decided to get some things done to make my holidays more stress-free.

I hate to admit it, but I am terrible about cleaning out my freezer on a regular schedule.   It has become somewhat of a mess with Mr. DB’s peppers taking up a lot of room, along with some random odds and ends I didn’t want to “waste”.  But I have gotten better at putting a date on the items I freeze which makes it easier to identify and toss old food.  I will probably make a vegetable soup this coming week to get rid of the little bits of frozen vegetables lurking around in the corners.  A good wipe down once it is cleaned out and I am ready to do some cooking and freezing!

Continue reading “Holiday Preparations”

The Lull before the Holidays

I am so proud of myself when I actually do what I know I should.  You know, like exercise, eat healthy, get a jump start on the holidays.  Today we are going to talk about things you can do to make your holiday season much less frantic and more fun.  Here are a few things I plan to do within the next week.  And one I have already done!

This weekend I will be making hot  pepper jelly.  It takes only an afternoon and yields about 5 jars of homemade goodness, ready to be shared.  It’s great for hostess gifts or anyone you like to give a little something.  You can always add crackers and cream cheese in a cute gift bag for a ready made hors d’oeuvre.    I use the recipe in the Sure-jell box.  Imagine giving your hostess something homemade, instead of the usual bottle of wine, or you could do both.

Did you know that quick breads (like banana and pumpkin) last 2-3 months in the freezer?  And cookies also take well to being frozen.  I make my cut-out Christmas cookies in advance and freeze them.  Then I decorate them another day.  Or you can bake your favorite cookies and freeze them for your family’s holiday or as gifts.  I did this one year and my family was so happy to have those cookies they grew up eating.

These ginger cookies are still nice and soft once they defrost from the freezer.

We often take a bottle of wine as a hostess gift also.  I have been wanting to come up with a custom label to put right on the wine bottle.   I had the inspiration to use leftover printable business cards.  I had two sheets left in a box of Avery printable business cards.  When you go to the Avery site they have so many templates, but if you are one of those super creative and original people you can upload your own design.  I had these printed up in 10 minutes.

There are hundreds of templates on the Avery site, including holiday designs.  I decided to go with a basic, but cute, design that can be used for any occasion.

Use your hole punch to put a hole in the corner.  Tie a ribbon or piece of cord and voila!

And yes, the font is customizable – next time I will make it bigger for sure.  It looks custom, but it’s custom for those of us who are design-challenged.

 

 

Make Your Holiday Notebook Now

Since Tom and I are empty nesters, we love it when the family comes home for Christmas.  Our three children live near us, but they (and the spouses of the two that are married) come stay at the house for a few days over Christmas.  It’s so much fun to have everyone under one roof.

As we all know, there are logistics to having 5 extra people for meals over a 3 day period.  I am a sporadically organized person so events like this get me motivated. I don’t want to miss out on the games and conversation because I am stuck in the kitchen! So I did a lot of meal planning and shopping for snacks.  And it mostly worked out, but there is always room for improvement.  I know, you might think because my children are grown and I’ve done this for decades that I would have it down.  But, it’s easy to forget what worked and what didn’t, people change, new people come into the family and it’s a whole new ballgame.

The best solution I have found for staying on top of my event planning is to use a binder-style notebook to keep all of my thoughts, ideas, recipes and inspiration in one place.
My notebook is a 3 ring binder I bought at TJ Maxx.  I like binders because there is a lot of flexibility: you can add and detract, move things around easily, make notes.  They are very customizable.

Planning Notebook (1 of 1)
I added the dividers and tabs I knew I would need.
Also, dividers with pockets are convenient for easily adding articles or recipes that I want to save.
Planning Notebook2 (1 of 1)

Sometimes I even get energetic enough to type up my menu.  It is helpful to make notes after an event about the recipes that were most popular, those that were less so, maybe something you should have made more of, anything you want to remember for your next party.  This way you are not starting from scratch every time you have a party.

With a big notebook like mine, you can have so many sections besides holidays.  There’s room for dinner parties, birthday parties, houseguests checklists, practically anything event wise.  And it’s so easy to personalize to fit your life.   I refer to mine again and again.
You’ll have everyone wondering how you stay on your game so consistently.

Do you have any tips to share on how you stay organized for your events?