Before you get tangled in tinsel….autumn

Before you get tangled in tinsel….autumn

I don’t know what it is. Maybe it’s a determined optimism in trying times, or the joy that comes from a new political era on the hoizon. But Christmas has come a lot earlier this year. It’s as if they’re skipping over Thanksgiving entirely. Houses are lit up, and a station has begun playing holiday tunes 24/7, three weeks before the turkeys are even trotted out. I get that Thanksgiving is an overrated holiday, but this eagerness for Santa blows over the last of this beautiful, fleeting autumn.

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The leaves are still gold and the weather hasn’t gone cruel, so let’s not get all tangled up in tinsel just yet. Here are some ways to enjoy the glorious last days of autumn, and be in the moment. And yes, these suggestions are all food-based.

Do you, like me, feel that a turkey dinner is… basic? This doesn’t apply to mashed potatoes. Nothing can touch mashed potatoes. But turkey? It works well in deli but there’s a reason we don’t cook that bird all year. It’s not that good. Switch things up. You can support local businesses by ordering through them, because they will most certainly be struggling though an economicaly nuclear winter. Or just switch up a boring staple with a delightfully warming dish, like coconut curry butternut squash soup.

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A simple recipe, with few ingredients

You’re going to see lot of pumpkin pie from November to January. What if I told you there was a chewy, gooey, sweet and salty alternative to the same ol’ same ol’, and you probably have the ingredients in your kitchen right now? What if you end up hating me for telling you about it because it’s so deliciously addictive?

Speaking of sweets, you may have a wealth of leftover Halloween candy sitting in your home. There are so many ways to repurpose it, whether for a homemade advent calendar or a way to sweeten up your gingerbread house. Find great ideas right here.

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Apple cider spiked with bourbon, ginger beer and cinnamon is peak fall

Working from home with kids in virtual school can breed chaos; more dishes, too much noise, lots of juggling. The last thing you want to do is spend more time in the kitchen. Healthy doesn’t have to mean time-consuming. Apples are still in season. Grab them in bulk and make them three ways; a meal, a dessert and a snack. And parents, I’m thinking of you too. This fresh apple cocktail will help you recover from those endless Zoom meetings.

Speaking of easy meals, how about one chicken, three ways? Chicken is only boring if you A) boil it or B) Don’t treat it like the blank slate that it is. Seasoning can bring out the best in a bird. Variety is the spice of life, and one full-sized chicken will provide three distinct dishes. That being said, healthy proteins aren’t always animal-based. This tasty, freeze-ahead staple will be a miracle in a pinch. Throw in the slow-cooker, ignore, then pack it up for later, when you are in need of guilt-free prepared food.

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Bumper crop of produce this harvest? Make a goal for zero waste.

When it gets cold outside, you can treat yourself to crock pot cocktails. This recipe for pumpkin-spiced hot cocoa is a creamy, soul-affirming dose of self care. Pour into a big mug and curl up with a book.

The extended warm weather this season has produced bumper crops of produce, sometimes too much for us to know what do do with. Have no fear. The thought of wasting food is equally repugnant to me, so here’s some smart, sustainable options for what to do with all that produce.

Pumpkins are the symbol of fall, used more as decor than food, because its contents tend to be a little plain. Without pumpkin spice, pumpkins would be over. But there are other gourds in the patch. Read on for some gourd greatness.

Savor the deliciousness of harvest time, and the last of the rainbow of falling leaves. It’s going to be a long winter, so enjoy autumn while it lasts.

Everyone okay out there?

One of the gifts of this pandemic is seeing “influencers” being replaced by hilarious TikTok videos. People need to laugh. Overly-edited selfies of girls on boats feels tone deaf at the moment.

Right now, the country is fighting for social justice, and rallying against an increasingly fascist White House. Influencers, already teetering on shaky ground for the shameless pursuit of followers and fame, seem out of place in today’s America.

Let’s put a hold on diet teas that cause gastrointestinal disasters. It’s not as fun watching high-end make-up tutorials when, if you aren’t one of the 40 million who are unemployed, are likely working from home anyway.

Let this time be a refresh, to focus on things that enrich our lives. Things that make us happy, and things that make a difference.

There are hilarious memes dedicated to the slow descent into madness for 2020. But if my previous posts have told you anything, it’s that I’m fighting the negativity tooth and nail. Instead of feeling helpless about the state our country is in, I get up and go to Black Lives Mater protests. I sign petitions and I registered to vote by mail. I turn my grief into action.

I miss entertaining and traveling. But I’m using the extra time to brush up on home projects, because life is giving me the world’s longest weekend. I built a slate fire pit and a curving, slate sidewalk leading up to it. I wallpapered the stair risers. I explored new parks with my six year-old and was able to binge watch everything in my queue. Highly recommended: Fleabag.

Here are some other things you can do to make the most of the current situation:

When life hands you peaches…. Get outside for fresh air in an orchard and pick them. It’s perfect for social distancing. If you don’t live near a farm where you can pick your own, hit up the market. Peaches will never be more juicy or wallet-friendly than they are right now in season, and delicious things can be made with them.

The same goes for tomatoes!

The kids need to have a little fun too. Integrate literature and food by making real-life green eggs and ham!

This winter, when news of the pandemic hit, it was nature that saved us. As if sensing our pain, she saved us from sleet and frigid temperatures. Like magic, winter was mild and spring came early, allowing us to get outside. My husband took up fishing, and with it, the exploration of unvisited state parks and local fishing spots. It meant days in the sun, leisurely picnics and fresh fish! Nothing beats my husband’s fried bass with Thai chili and tamarind sauce. Nothing.

Most pools are closed, but it isn’t the only way to make a splash. Research the best places to take a dip, whether an old quarry or local lake. If you’re not land-locked, get to the coast. Well and Good even has a guide that lists the best natural places to swim in every state. To make the most of it, go prepared. Pack river shoes to avoid broken glass or questionable surfaces. Bring water to stay hydrated. Come with friends, because there’s safety in numbers. Since you’ll be far from civilization, pack great food and stir up a fresh summer sangria. These will likely be the best days of your summer.

It’s true that the pandemic isn’t over, but neither is summer. This season can be fleeting, which is why we need to stop and savor the little things. Instead of frozen sugar water, get creative with homemade popsicles. Arnold Palmer, strawberry and basil and cappuccino are among the surprising flavor combinations. Have fun with it!

Perhaps most importantly, don’t let helplessness take over. It’s easy during a pandemic to feel down, especially with the relentless news cycle spitting out one treacherous act after another. It’s healthy to shut it out in small doses, but be sure to stay informed. The only way to beat helplessness is to be part of the solution. Register to vote by mail, march with protesters for Black Lives Matter, sign petitions fighting against corrupt government practices, then rest and regroup as needed.

Blink and it will be fall. There will new things to look forward to. Until then, take care of yourself.

Inspiration in Quarantine

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I hope this post finds people in good spirits, though it’s a rainy Monday. In a quarantine. I think it’s a perfect excuse to catch up on my reading and face-mask game, but I want to be sensitive to how other people are feeling during this time.

Some people have lost loved ones to Covid-19, while others are struggling with being so bobisolated. Many are still working full-time from home while trying to homeschool. Personally, my family and I are thriving during this time. Attitude has a lot to do with it. Being positive doesn’t mean that you’re happy all the time, but we are doing two important things: Making the best out of a difficult situation, and remembering that better times are ahead of us. 

We’ve taken advantage of the time we’ve been given. Our son learned to ride a bike, I’m immersed in crafting projects and my husband just made a wheel of Jarlsberg cheese – to be ready by summer. Regardless of how you feel, you owe it to yourself to find light in these dark times. Life is too short. And mark my words: When people start getting busy again, they will lament not having this extra time that we have been given right now.

Here are some tips to make the most of this temporary situation, taken from my blog at Ladles & Linens:

If grocery stores make you fraught, now is the perfect time to start your own garden! The yield will be much tastier, and it will save you plenty of coin: Inspo right HERE.

March Gardening To-Do List

Keeping your immune system in tip-top condition is a great way to stave off Covid-19. Or, if you’ve been infected, an immunity boost still gives a good head start in combating the symptoms and severity.  Fight the good fight HERE.

Now is the time to hunker down and make those time-consuming recipes you love. Even better? Freeze some for later, busier times. You’ll be grateful that you did. Deliciousness awaits right HERE.

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Everyone is baking right now, but it doesn’t all have to be bakery fare. Whip up some protein bars, with whatever you have in the house. Kitchen Sink Protein Bites are tasty and guilt-free. Find some options right HERE.

Have a great week!

When the Weather Outside is Frightful

So the holidays are over. When the decorations were first put away, it felt bare. But by now it feels clean and decluttered. And so does your social calendar, compared to December!

This is a great time to take a breath and enjoy the slow-down before spring is in the air. Tackle home projects that have been on your to-do list, whether cooking those doggy-eared recipes in your cookbook, or patching up a paint job. Crossing those things off the list feels glorious.

Though I’m not a fan of winter, I try everything in my power not to consider January through March a slog. In fact, I’ve posted a few things at Ladles and Linens that will motivate you to make the most of this season.

For instance, do you practice hygge? Scandinavians practice this art of warm and fuzzy and have it on lock. Tips to hygge up your home can be found here.

Who says your slow cooker is for meals only? It’s the perfect catalyst to help you serve these warm boozy drinks!

And staying in during blustery weather with friends calls for comfort food. Start a pierogi-making session. Working with your hands is as therapeutic as the laughter your friends will have around the kitchen table. Make pierogies in bulk – they freeze beautifully. Details here.

It’s also perfect weather for sharing a meal around a steaming hot pot. No cooking required before guests arrive, and they’ll still consider you a gourmand. That alone should be a selling point. Check it out here!

Party Gone Wild

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Girls Gone Wild!

No, we’re not talking about the regrettable exhibitionist franchise, but a party theme. Wild as in jungle wild, and it’s an adorable theme for a kid’s party. Mind you, showers and children’s birthday parties are a joy when the booze is flowing, and a kid’s birthday party is the perfect excuse to go shamelessly, passionately thematic!

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Lilliana Winston turned two, and host Carla Winston saved us all from yet another pink and purple extravaganza. The theme of the party? Two Wild! She repurposed brown shopping bags, twisting them into giant tree trunks for an indoor jungle. Kids and adults alike were encouraged to wear custom fuzzy headbands, all resembling different animals on the savannah; elephants, zebras, monkeys, etc.

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Below are photos to show how fun it was, and how hard she worked. To take your party from interesting to PINTERESTing, follow Winston’s example. Enjoy!

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This is extra.

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Devil in the detail: monstera leaves & homemade treats

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Host Gone Wild: Carla Winston

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Hapy birthday Lilliana!

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Pumpkin Spice and All Things Nice

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Its been a couple of weeks since my last post, but not for a lack of writing! As the lifestyle blogger for Ladles and Linens, I’m knee-deep in test recipes and kitchen gadgets, and thought I’d share some tidbits here. I’ll serve up the posts menu-style, so you can click on what you’d like. Happy reading, and as always, thanks for being here.

Pizza personality chart! What do your toppings say about you? Read here and find out.

Can turmeric cure the blues? Here are five everyday spices, and their surprising health benefits!

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The Great Pumpkin Spice Debate: Pumpkin spice has gone beyond the latte; they’re even making pumpkin-spiced Spam!  Is this a well-deserved craze, or is the whole PSL thing overrated?

Oh. My. Gourd. Many decorate with gourds this time of year, but few savor the flavor. Turns out butternut and spaghetti squash are the most commonly eaten gourds, while most others remain unenjoyed. Here are some recipes and tips for making the most of this season’s harvest!

PumpkinSpiceLatte

Postcard from Tokyo

This advice for Tokyo is the same advice I’ll give anyone visiting Japan. Explore the alleys! That’s where all the treasures are hidden. From little Izakaya shops with just four chairs on a counter, you will find exquisite ramen. You’ll find hidden courtyards with Shinto temples that are over a thousand years old. Homemade candy shops, innovative playgrounds and sushi meccas are tucked away in these little alleys. Some highlights from Tokyo:

Robot Restaurant

Prepare for sensory overload, as lasers, disco balls and neon lights create a dizzying show of battling robots, ninja warriors and psychedelic costumed characters. It’s too over-the-top to put into words. The show sells out way in advance, so be sure to book before your trip!

Cherry Blossoms

Make sure to go in the spring to take in the heady, romantic views of cherry trees blossoming in white and pink. Unlike the delicate cherry blossom trees in the states (such as DC) the trees in Japan are beyond mature. They seem ancient, with heavy, twisting trunks people can climb. If you can’t make it in the spring, come in the fall, when the Japanese maples come alive in fiery colors. Click here for the best places to see cherry blossoms in Tokyo.

This is Harajuku, close to Shibuya

Shibuya Crossing

Yes, it is home to the busiest intersection in the word, with thousands of people criss-crossing the multiple corners for each red light. It’s a sight to behold, and film with your camera as you weave through a sea of faces. But beyond that is a vibrant night scene. I got street food at midnight – unbelievable Kobe beef on a stick. I got sushi served to me by bullet train when ordered on a computer screen. I explored adorable boutiques and saw a statue dedicated to Hachi.

Japanese pancakes

There are plenty of places to get these fluffy masterpieces. About an inch thick and custardy on the inside, they melt in your mouth and are piled high with fun toppings. From hazelnut chocolate and bananas, to whipped cream and strawberry compote. Just don’t go to Burn Side St Cafe, because there is a miserable server there who takes away the experience. There are plenty of options!

Tokyo Tower!

Speaking of plenty of options, there is so much more to discover than what I mentioned.  So consider this a jumping-off point. And most importantly, don’t forget to explore those alleys!

 

How You Can Bring Paris to RVA

Last year, I was swept up in the magic that was Diner en Blanc. I wrote about it, but one must experience this Parisian tradition in person. While this elaborate picnic began in Paris, it’s now celebrated around the world. Considering the size of Richmond, you’d think it wouldn’t have caught on. But the event became a must-do summer tradition, and with around 1,200 attendees every year, Richmond’s become a major player on the world stage.

And 1,200 revelers are a lot to coordinate, so Diner en Blanc Richmond is looking for volunteers. By volunteering, you not only gain free entry, but you get to participate in one of the most memorable cultural experiences in Richmond. An elaborate night of creativity in all its forms; visual, musical, palatable. The big night is August 17th, and per tradition, the location is top secret until the day-of.

If interested in volunteering, email richmond@dinerenblanc.com – until then, au revoir!

Ladles & Linens & blogs, oh my!

As you know, I love to share party and entertaining tips. Exhibit A, Exhibit B ….you get the idea. I’m happy to announce that Ladles and Linens brought me on as their Lifestyle Blogger! The Story of Cooking has allowed me to share even more tidbits and things that inspire me, like managing your work/life balance and themed parties. The latter being LIFE.

The company’s owner, Sarah Nicholas is a legit FBI agent-turned-TV Chef-turned business owner. And since her story’s more interesting than mine, I’ll go ahead and leave a link about her right HERE. And since her family is so adorable, I’ll go ahead and drop a photo right…

…there we go.  I’d always been a Ladles and Linens customer. If Lilly Pulitzer were a gourmand, this would be her shop. It’s playful, but tasteful. Cheerful, but serious about quality; they test all their products. They have three locations in Virginia, but distance is no issue because you can shop their store online. Their prices are competitive with Amazon, which makes me feel even better about shopping local.

And as they say, “It’s always a kitchen party, and everyone’s invited!”

Bonfire of the Bon Vivants

When I hosted a casual bonfire (for 55!) in my back yard, I didn’t account for it to be the coldest day of the year. But to live well, one must worry less. Les bon vivants know that all too often happy anticipation rolls into anxiety. Just look at what’s expected of brides-to-be; tears, tantrums, mood stabilizers. When in reality, brides should be planning one of the biggest bashes they’ll ever have. But I digress.

The point is, things happen, like rain, or in our case, freakish subzero temperatures that came out of nowhere. We had to concede that yes, this would be an indoor/outdoor party. I cleaned the house, lit candles and played Chet Baker. 

the blonde mafia, defrosting

How to keep the crowd circulating indoors and outdoors? That’s easy – put the bar outside! It was perfect, really. When our cooler and fridge were overstuffed with beers, the outside temps were just as cold! In addition to beer, we made a signature cocktail. It stayed hot in the crock pot, to battle the elements. It was apple cider with salted caramel whiskey, topped with whipped cream and Ghiradelli caramel sauce. 

salted caramel whiskey-spiked cider

We also borrowed a second fire pit to spread the warmth. Guests grilled their hot dogs and marshmallows over the fire, but I kicked the experience up a notch. I had a S’mores Station, where ingredients were encased in elegant glass, preventing guests from having to fumble with packaging.

We created a hot dog toppings bar, with ingredients that ranged from the expected (grilled onions, Sri Racha, homemade chili), to the adventurous (cranberry chutney, pineapple, homemade habanero sauce).

endless toppings for the hot dogs

And I can’t resist adding an activity or station, so I created a “Happy Fall, Y’all! photo wall, complete with furniture, pumpkins, colored leaves and stringed lights. 

Ryan scores the epic photo of the night

Though the kids enjoyed the outdoor ball pit, hammock, tree swing and toys, the night marched on and the air got chilly. I called to the kids out back that we would play a Christmas movie in the living room. They tore across the yard and fell stone silent in front of Stick Man, curling up on the furniture. 

a nod to Anchorman’s Ron Burgundy, guests cozied up in fresh blankets

As the crowds dwindled, so did the fire. The last few friends wandered into the living room, and the conversations went deeper. Bonfires are great because they can be woven in between major holidays, like Halloween or Christmas. Plus. people have to cook their own dinner (hot dogs) and dessert (s’mores). But then you reward them with an elaborate topping bar because the late and great Nora Ephron is still in your head reminding you that people love to play with their food. Almost as much as you love to serve it to them. 

Happy holidays.

Without the 3 on the right: Xenia, Sylvester & Nabeela, I’d have been in the kitchen all night
no matter the party, the kitchen gets cowded
devil is in the detail (or tangled in our grape vines)