A lot has happened since my last post. We’ve recovered from Omicron, had a delayed holiday celebration with family, and I am fully fighting back against seasonal affective disorder.
Of course, I fight that good fight every year, and have written about it more than once. A friend told me that it’s good to have things to look forward to when in the dregs of winter. She’s not wrong. I’ve planned a solo trip to the place I left my heart: Los Angeles. And I am counting the days.
When you have a family, you fall into a rhythm over the years. Not the grim reaper rhythm of monotony that we all fear, but a general expectation of pace over the seasons. Because our birthdays, anniversaries, and holidays ramp up in the spring, I like to view this as our family’s recovery time. Life moves at a slower pace. This is when I try to work on home projects, update my website, and the most cheerful activity? Party prep for my son’s birthday in spring.
Sound crazy? Not when you’ve seen one of his all-out thematic parties. Instead of stressing about it in the spring, I get all the DIY details done in advance, and I love it. I have a new, pandemic-era art studio in my basement and I tinker away for hours, using what I already have to create something new. I was sustainable before sustainable was cool. Hopefully, it will create a core memory with my soon-to-be eight-year-old. You can check out some of my previous events on the Parties and Events section of my site. This year’s theme? He chose Pokemon.
If you generally struggle this time of year, you can find some inspiration with a road trip. Even if it’s a simple day trip to pull you out of your home, which can become a vortex during a pandemic winter. If you live in Central Virginia, here’s a day trip idea I wrote about for North of the James. A little good news here: I was given my own column in the North of the James newspaper, called Diversions.
…Which brings me to my next topic: I just cannot find enough time to get on here and post as often as I’d like. In addition to writing full-time at a regular job, I’m freelancing again for the Richmond Times-Dispatch, running a column at North of the James, and still posting weekly as a lifestyle columnist for Ladles and Linens.
Not to mention, counting the days until can get home to California!
Spring is in the air, and I don’t care if it’s that old “fool’s spring” – the warm snap in March that makes daffodils bloom and gullible people dry clean their coats. I know Virginia winters, and we could very well be hit with snow in a week. But I don’t care. I blow past that unending stack of dirty dishes and into the backyard. I’m out there digging and watching the earth wake up until well after dark, when I get dragged in by the ear.
You wouldn’t believe all I’ve been able to do with repurposed materials. I used discarded slate from my neighbors’ roofs to stack up an elegant fire pit. I used extra slate and discarded pavers in the alleys to build pathways in the yard. It’s a mosaic-like hodge podge of marble (from broken kitchen countertops), concrete (from broken up hardscaping) and slabs of shale from my sister-in-law’s property in Pennsylvania.
The last time I had written was during the holidays. I spent many winter weekends hosting cooking marathons; the oven belting out serving after serving of comfort food, so that our freezer will be nice and stacked with homemade goodness. That’s what a second freezer really is: an excuse to turn your home into a food factory.
I liken winter cook-a-thons to saving for a sunny day, rather than a rainy day. You hunker down in bleak weather to cook ahead for sunnier times, when you’d rather be outside. Toss a few frozen goodies into your beach bag, and it will be delicious by the time you hit that salt air.
Not posting here hasn’t been for a lack of writing. I’ve been writing full time for a law firm (fascinating stuff, actually) and still have the privilege of being the lifestyle blogger for Ladles and Linens. Not to mention freelancing for North of the James! All pistons are firing right now, and it feels good.
But before spring is in full swing, before we’re all vaccinated and swinging from the rafters, I’d love to catch you up. Since entertaining and traveling is still taboo, I’ve mostly written about food. Much of it comforting, all of it delicious.
I finally tackled cocoa bombs! This was one of the pandemic must-do activities, and I fashioned mine after Terry’s Chocolate Orange. For those who haven’t tried orange and chocolate together, it’s a sublime combinaton!
I’ve been learning to make guilt-free goodies. Well, not entirely guilt-free. But I sweeten this chocolate coconut bark with honey, and these peanut butter cups are made with less sugar. Yet both are addictive! Both also use a bit of coconut oil, which not only has antioxidants and provides immune support, but it’s manna for your hair and skin.
I love pie, but if I had a choice between sweet and savory, I always go for savory. My husband finally fired up the new pizza oven he built, and we spent at least six hours making Middle-Eastern spinach pies, meat pies, cheese pies, zaatar pies and egg pies. We had a whole team on the case, and hours later, we had stacks of freezer bags filled. We passed them out to ecstatic family members.
I’d also like to think that I cast a wide net of relief, as I wrote about five foods that people traditionally believe are unhealthy, but are actually good for you! This is the reverse of the usual article, which tends to list “health foods” that are secretly bad for you.
Speaking of “bad for you,” I had to cover some classics for the Super Bowl spread. Buffalo wings, when done right, are life. And I think potato skins are underappreciated, considering the myriad ways you can slather them with sin.
I teach people how to build an epic bowl of ramen, using whatever you have in your home. People have plenty sitting around to keep their bowl interesting, and ful of color. The same goes for grain bowls, which are even more versatile. I also teach people how to make congee, a comforting breakfast porridge from China. This simple crock pot recipe only uses five ingredients, and fills your home with the scent of warm ginger.
I think we’re caught up for now. Hopefully this content-rich post makes up for my absence. This is always my favorite place to write; free from editors, free from overthinking on SEO algortithms – just a place to celebrate the good life.
While I love good food, I’m looking forward to opening this blog back up to all the other topics I’ve covered, from travel to fashion to parties. Especially the parties, and I plan to make up for lost time! As we are all beginning to get vaccinated, I can feel the world opening back up. Or is just that my spring fever?
I love the water. So much so, that I am willing to do an activity that involves the word redneck. Kids around the world have been pulled out of school, kept in their homes and are enduring a strange new reality. But we don’t have to feel sorry for them. Not if we’re being creative. Not if we’re allowing them outside, letting them explore and getting them covered in scrapes and bruises, just like a kid should be. I refuse to let the wonder of childhood sink into a pit of video game addiction.
Well, whatever winter we had (it gets weirder every year) has passed. Spring fever is in full boom and Memorial Day is right around the corner. With beaches and pools closed, it’s time to make a Redneck Riviera in the yard. Fill up a big kiddie pool, fire up these new-fangled Slip and Slides with squirting fountains, and plug in the sprinkler. Et voila!
Prepare to have the sound of your yard filled with giggles and screeches. Prepare to have neighbors slow down to smile at the sight. Prepare sandwiches, because running around in the sun all day will bring on a preternatural hunger. Keep a basket of sunscreen and insect stray nearby. Lay out a giant blanket for them to rest on, and in full sun so they don’t get the shivers. And of course, play some great music.
As for you, feel free to soak up the sun, shake up a summer cocktail, catch up on required reading (Vogue!) and ignore them in general. You deserve the break as much as they do.
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 isolated. 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.
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.
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.
Though only 20 miles from downtown Richmond, Dover Hall feels worlds away. The Tudor-style mansion even transports you to a different time. The rolling hills and hedges resemble an estate in the English countryside, where at any moment, Richard III could roll up in his carriage.
Dover Hall contains over 8 million dollars in art and antiques. Since it was built as a home, there are too many entrances and exits for insurance companies to even consider covering it as a museum. The taxidermy is unbelievable, the chandeliers range from elk horns to glittering crystal, and the sun room overlooking the yard is the perfect setting for a love scene in a Jane Austen novel.
One would never believe that the house was built in 1996. Designed from scratch, the builders avoided the cheap pitfalls of drywall and wall-to-wall carpeting. Instead, Dover Hall features exposed stone, wood beams and Gothic fabric-covered walls. It’s filled with beautiful things, but isn’t cluttered. It’s decorated with a range of treasures, from an authentic Native American teepee to Victorian antiques, but the house still feels cohesive.
Luckily, Dover Hall is no longer a private home, and serves as a bed and breakfast. A romantic weekend getaway would be unforgettable. One can even rent the place (or certain areas) for events such as weddings, charities and parties. With innovative cuisine and wine curated by the chefs, and lush furnishings acquired from around the world, Dover Hall is a crown jewel in Richmond, and a must-visit for les bon vivants!
When Christmas ends, it’s like emerging from a haze. We’re snapped into the harsh reality of winter; something that had been slowly closing in while we were distracted by eggnog and tinsel.
“Only three months,” I repeat to myself every January. It’s a countdown to April’s big thaw. Winter is not something I missed when living in Los Angeles. But rather than survival mode, I’m attempting to embrace the “I love all four seasons” mantra of obvious psychopaths. Below are 10 things you can do to better enjoy life on such a winter’s day.
1: Little Miss Sunshine The days are shorter, and we’re missing out on hours of nature’s mood enhancer: the sun. It also provides Vitamin D, reduces blood pressure, and aligns your circadian rhythm. If it’s too blustery to be outside, park your car in full sun, dip out of the office during your lunch break and bake in the car. It warms you to the bone. Close your eyes and play classic 60s surf music, like The Ventures. You’re set after just a few minutes.
2. Fortify If you can’t soak up the rays, be sure to take Vitamin D supplements. I do super-concentrated sublingual drops – much easier and stronger than pills.
3. Body Hair Don’t Care Revel in the fact that you needn’t shave on the regular, or deal with a pedicure – not that you’re everobligated to do these things. In fact, current trends are having us reevaluate why women feel the need to shave so much in the first place. Get cozy in chunky sweaters. Ditch the razor and wear tights. Black tights are a basic but invest in more interesting neutrals, such as heather grey and burgundy. You’ll wear them more than you think.
4. KTHXBAI Even if you weren’t being lashed with subzero temperatures, many need to detox from family and holiday stress alone. But don’t jump on a plane first thing January. Give yourself time to unpack suitcases, bond with your pets and get some laundry done. Plus, waiting a bit gives you something to look forward to, and time to find vacation steals. Go somewhere warm, but prepare to lose a few friends. Your Instagram stories and post-vacation tan will be the envy of all, even if that wasn’t your intention. And side note: Never let that be your intention.
5. “Shake It Like a Polaroid Picture” – Outkast There’s always that late-winter panic about spring being around the corner, instilling fear that once we shed our coats, hideous winter secrets will come jiggling out. Why not hide another secret? That beneath our layers lurks a mean, lean machine. Exercise releases endorphins, the feel-good hormone that hits depression head-on. Make the decision to get moving, and soon your body will crave these endorphins. I switch it up with yoga, Just Dance on the Wii, ballet, and a treadmill. When you step into a sundress at the end of April, you will slay.
6. Face Your Bully They say the best way to deal with a bully is to stand up to it. Don’t hide from the snow. Go on a ski trip for the weekend. Build a snowman with your children. Snowball fights and shoveling are great exercise.
7. The Big Purge Imagine how much better spring cleaning will be, if you have less junk around the house. Take Christmas gifts you don’t want, and place them in a re-gift box, especially if you know someone who would love them. Rid your closets of clothes you don’t wear, or that don’t fit, and donate them to charity. Avoid the Salvation Army, as their ideology doesn’t support equal rights. Donate to a thrift store that stands for a good cause, such as animal shelters or children’s hospitals. Removing the dead weight will make your home feel airy and organized. Get inspired to reorganize your life by watching Tidying Up with Marie Kondo.
8. Self Care: It’s not a trend Winter is a time of slowing down. Before wedding season, and before those BBQ invites star rolling in, make good use of your downtime. Do deep-conditioning treatments for your hair, indulge in face masks and a paraffin wax treatment for your dry winter hands. Crack open a cookbook and find more delicious or interesting ways to eat your veggies. I’ll never steam cauliflower again, after I discovered how caramelized roasted cauliflower tastes. Mend your clothes, polish your leather shoes. During commercial breaks, do sets of push-ups and sit-ups to build strength. Stretch to build flexibility. Most importantly, moisturize!
9. Blink and it’s gone Take advantage of the things that you can only do in the winter. Sled down the scariest hill in town. Ice skate in an outdoor rink under the stars, and hold hands with your date. Load up on my favorite winter fruit, the pomegranate! They’re tart, full of antioxidants and will disappear as soon as warm weather returns. For the best way to open a pomegranate, check out this video.
10. Give In Enjoy the slowdown after the holidays. The nights are longer, so light a scented candle, sink under a weighted blanket and sip some hot chai. Marathon a great show, and read anything by David Sedaris or Joan Didion. And I cannot say it enough – moisturize!
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
Don’t you love how rearranging a room feels like a fresh start? Everyone wants their home to be inviting, but some just don’t know where to begin. Here are 7 quick things you can do to bring back that feeling, without all the heavy lifting.
Always Have a Spare Toothbrush
Whether it’s a friend who’s had too many Bellinis or a cousin for the weekend, be prepared for overnight guests. Always have a spare toothbrush on hand, leave freshly laundered towels in their room and if you know they’re coming ahead of time, fresh flowers takes it up a notch.
If you’re lucky enough to have a fireplace, don’t let it sit dormant. Safety first: call in a pro chimney sweep. They’ll make sure the structure is sound, fix cracks and clean out leaves. Once you build your first fire, there’s no going back. The campfire smell, the sound of wood crackling, the mood. Another perk? You can cut down on your heating bill. Even better are the endless posts on Craig’s List, with people practically begging you to take firewood off their hands. Once the fire dies, remember that wood fire ashes are one of the best fertilizers on earth. And speaking of fire…
3) S’mores. Always.
Keep a s’mores kit on hand, in the case of an impromptu gathering. Marshmallows, graham crackers and Hershey bars have a long shelf life, not to mention being serious crowd pleasers.
4) The Eye Has to Travel
Ever wonder why so many homes have bushes flanking their porch? It’s not a coincidence. As Diana Vreeland once said, “The eye has to travel.” The sight of a house jutting from the grass is too stark. You need to soften the lines, and cover up the inevitable dirt and mud on the bottom edges of your home. Bushes do this, gradually taking the eye from nature to architecture. But don’t stop there. Tasteful greenery adds curb appeal, and will fill you with a sense of pride as you pull up. Flank either side of your front door with an urn, and plant something beautiful. Make sure the plants are symmetrical. If you have a covered porch, hang ferns and burro tails.
5) Be Enlightened
Unless it’s recessed lighting, overhead lighting tends to be harsh. I’m talking dressing room harsh. On low ceilings, LED lights can be too bright, casting an industrial grey glow. Switch to lamp lighting. Use a mix of tabletop and standing lamps to distribute the light evenly. You can customize and enjoy the golden glow.
6) Cutting Garden
Flowers may make a house a home, but a cutting garden makes it an estate. Buying fresh flowers adds up, so decimate the costs with some plantings. I simply step into the yard with scissors and snip what’s blooming. I have roses in full sun, hydrangeas in partial shade and a range of unusual flora in between. From spring to fall, I almost never buy store-bought flowers.
7) Bring the Outside In
Plants soften corners and bring life into a space. Not only with beauty but with its oxygen boost. Place tall plants in empty corners, put leafy, interesting varieties on dressers and tabletops, and forego standard terra cotta. Place them in interesting pottery that compliments your design scheme.
Once you start making small tweaks, you may find yourself taking on ambitious home improvement projects. Any proud homeowner knows that a house is never “done,” but a constantly evolving quest for beauty, function and comfort. Enjoy the quest!
When it comes to road trips, I get worked up Elle Woods’ sorority sisters in Legally Blonde. Minus the screeching. Well, a bit of the screeching. Sometimes a road trip can be better than a faraway vacation; zero airports and quality time with your dogs.
Tucked away in the mountains of Charlottesville, overlooking apple orchards and a vineyard owned by Dave Matthews lies this historic home, which is Italian for “little mountain.” Indeed, Thomas Jefferson’s home sat on the plateau of a small mountaintop, and you could walk from one opposite slope to the other in a couple of minutes. Much can be said about the interior of Monticello, which is smaller than I had anticipated, much like Graceland. I blame tacky McMansions for this distortion.
I would be remiss if I described the grandeur of a place without mentioning it was built with slave labor. Monticello truly is an homage to the hard work the slaves put in; they created a haven. Even Monticello itself is trying to reconcile it’s darker past. They discuss Sally Hemings on a specialized slave tour, and it’s about time.
What intrigued me about Monticello were the gardens. Jefferson enjoyed the beauty of unusual plants and delicious heirloom vegetables – many of which aren’t sold in grocery stores due to their shorter shelf life. He liked variety and appreciated the abnormal. I was thrilled to find that I could buy seeds that came directly from Thomas Jefferson’s garden. Here in Richmond, I’m continuing this line of ancient seeds.
Strolling the grounds, I could see why Jefferson often wrote about how he would rather be home at Monticello. The tour inspired me to make my home even more of a haven, more of a gathering pace. And I thought nothing could work me up more than Pinterest!
We’re currently planting a weeping willow in the yard, for a romantic backdrop. I’m painting a few interior doors Tiffany blue, with white trim. We’ve hung Moroccan lamps from wooden posts surrounding our brick patio. This patio will of course be accented by the heirloom plants we’ve grown from Monticello.
Childhood slumber parties were pure magic. It was the freedom of being together after the adult world had fallen asleep. It was in the thrill of the ghost stories, the unchecked amount of sugar in our candy stashes. Growing up doesn’t mean that slumber parties should be a thing of the past. In fact, we need them more than ever! Between our careers and growing families, there’s an ever-increasing need for quality time with friends and pampering.
Whatever sense of wonder that’s missing from adult sleepovers, we make up for in luxury! Forget sleeping bags on the floor. We loaded down our sofa bed with linens and pillows.
Instead of frozen pizza, we opted for pan-seared sesame salmon, homemade pesto on spaghetti squash and new potatoes, and a summer salad with peaches and feta.
Our movie popcorn was dusted with truffle salt we brought home from an unforgettable trip to Monaco.
We had fun doing a 60s-style slumber party photoshoot – pure camp!
We watched movies, then capped it off doing what girls do best at slumber parties. We talked! Until the wee hours of the morning, we dished about boys, our careers, movie stars, and everything in between. Even if the giggles were fueled by my spiked watermelon & mint slushies, we still laughed all night. Just like old times.