Sunday, January 31, 2016

Charlie's 7th Birthday Celebration

This post is only 3 months late... By the time we finally had Charlie's party it was more than a month after his actual birthday (rescheduled due to illness), by that time the blogging community was in full holiday posting mode and it just didn't feel right to share the details of his celebration.  Now that we are at the start of a new year, one that is filled with birthdays and graduations and weddings and whatever other special occasions might be on your horizon, I wanted to share a little about the help I received making C's party extra special this year...

The picture on the left is on his real birthday, with the chocolate cake I always make.  I had suspicions there was something brewing, which is why he is blowing out candles on a slice of cake rather than the whole thing.  Smart move on my part because the rest of us were spared his virus, which was in full effect by 2:00 AM the next morning... poor kiddo.

So, the situation I find myself in every year is one many of you probably do too - birthday's get to be a bit of an exhausting affair.  There is the celebration on the actual birthday for our family, with homemade cake and festive balloons and decorations in the house and then shortly there after is the party with friends. (more cake, more decorations, entertainment, treat bags, themes)  I'm always looking for ways to keep things simple, yet still special. The last couple years we've rented an off site location so that Charlie can invite more friends than a party at our house would allow.  While this makes party hosting a whole lot easier, these locations typically come with windowless, charmless, party rooms.  Making me miss the quaint at home parties I've had in year's past, like here and here.   I know kids really don't care, that having a great time with their friends is all they will really remember, but I get so much joy (even when it's tiring) of trying to personalize and make things look special.  This year was a breeze though, since most of the creative work was done, not by me, but my dear friend Jen, who is one of the co-owners of Charming Touch Parties (CTP).  Jen and her good friend, Val, run CTP, an event planning business with an etsy store that creates personalized paper party goods.  Jen was one of my very best friends and roommates in college - she always gave the most beautifully wrapped gifts and had the best decorated room.  That same thoughtfulness and attention to detail now goes into the products they create for every occasion you can imagine.  When she offered to help with C's party, I was so excited to see what she would do!  Their items are all handmade and can be tailored to your specific theme or event - such a fun mail day when they arrive!

Charlie's party was held at the University of Cincinnati Recreation Center. C is a HUGE Bearcats fan so all the party supplies were created in the red and black school colors.  The party included rock climbing and swimming.  I envisioned old school pennants which Jen created for the table with a chalkboard font.   And there were lots of C's for Cincinnati (but also Charlie!).  The straws with the flags and the gift tags for the party favors were my two favorites things.  Oh and the cake topper - I LOVED the cake topper, maybe that was my favorite...  When Charlie walked in the party room he had the biggest smile on his face - JUST LOVED IT!  Maybe they do appreciate all the decorations and extras more than I give them credit for - he noticed everything. :)

The room was in the pool area and impossible to photograph because it was super dark.  I had about 15 minutes to set it all up before the party started so I didn't have a ton of time to take pics, hopefully this gives you a little glimpse though.    I can't believe I forgot to take pics of the tables, half were lined with chalkboard paper as a runner (from Target) and the other with Kraft paper runners (also Target).  We served pizza for dinner and the cake was made by Servatii's.  

Such fun memories!  Many thanks to Jen and CTP for all their help (even from all the way in Geneva, IL) with this party.  It wouldn't have been the same without all your creations! xx

Friday, January 29, 2016

Recipe | Leek + Sausage Soup

January has been a cccccold one and on the heels of a mild December I seem to have gone into baking and cooking over drive.  Making up for my lack of culinary motivation in December, this month has been a steady stream of fresh homemade breads, warm cinnamon and sugar soft pretzels, and lots of fudge brownies coming from my kitchen.  And since we can't survive on baked goods alone, there's been plenty of stews, soups and hearty pasta dinners too.  I've also spent more hours than I probably should curled up in front of the fire reading too. (house is a mess! behind on emails!)  But there are few pleasures I love more in the winter than getting lost in a good story!  If you are on instagram my book review hashtag is #NSHbookclub.  I always like to hear about what others are reading and love a good recommendation (hint, hint...).  I just finished another one today that I really enjoyed, The Nightingale from Kristen Hannah.

Back to food though... I made this soup for dinner this week thanks to a recommendation from a friend (thanks Lisa! ;)) and tweaked the recipe ever so slightly (more veggies!).  I've had a bit of a cold and wasn't feeling the greatest so this soup brought me back to life.  Spicy, hearty and so comforting for chilly winter lunches or dinner. I ate it for lunch and dinner two days in a row.  It's been so long since I shared a new recipe, this one is a keeper...

Recipe | Leek and Sausage Soup
(adapted from Michael Romano's Secret Ingredient Soup)

2 tablespoons olive oil
1 cup finely chopped onion
1 cup finely chopped peeled carrot
1 cup well-washed thinly sliced leeks
1 teaspoon finely chopped garlic
1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes (or more if you want spicier)
8 ounces bulk sweet Italian sausage (I used Fresh Market)
2 tablespoons medium-grind cornmeal (polenta)
5 cups Chicken stock
2 generous handfuls of coarsely chopped arugula
Grated Parmigiano-Reggiano for serving

  1. Heat the oil in a large saucepan over medium heat. Add the onion, carrot, leeks, garlic, salt, black pepper, and red pepper and cook, stirring, until the onion becomes translucent, 8 to 10 minutes. Add the sausage and cook, breaking it up into small pieces with a wooden spoon, until no longer pink, about 5 minutes.  Drain off the excess fat, leaving about 2 tablespoons in the pan. Stir in the cornmeal. Add the stock, stirring, and bring to a boil, then reduce the heat and simmer, covered, for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally.  Stir in the greens and cook for 15 minutes more, or until tender.

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Our Home | Andrew's "Teen" Bedroom

Last year I decided it was high time to make a few changes in Andrew's room.  He was turning 13 and his room hadn't been touched since he was 4.  We still had a white bookcase and dresser from his nursery furniture, red corduroy curtains that I hung as a compromise when we moved in (he wanted a red painted bedroom at the time since it was his favorite color), and framed vintage train bookplates for art on the wall.   If it had been tidy that would have been one thing but it was a disaster. All the time.  He had outgrown certain items and the space just didn't function for him anymore. In fact, when Midwest Living Magazine came to shoot our home a couple years ago, I declared the space completely off limits. Ha. So embarrassing!

When I suggested to Andrew that it was time to freshen things up, add some organization and declutter he wasn't very thrilled.  He liked his room just the way it was and didn't want a complete change.  He's pretty sentimental about his mementos (ticket stubs, travel souvenirs, photos, old cards, etc) and wanted to make sure it still felt like his space.  So we did all the planning together.  He choose the art, approved the purchases, and arranged his things the way he felt they should be.  We ended up with a room that reflects him so perfectly.  While the room now feels age appropriate and in better keeping with the rest of our home, it's still filled with the things he is passionate about in life.

Here is a breakdown of the changes we made.  All sources at the end of this post.

^^Let me start with a little background on his room. For starters, it is very large.  It was the original master bedroom in this home before an addition was built in the early 50s, so it has wonderful perks like two large closets and lots of natural light.  There is an magnolia tree right outside the window seat and tall pine trees outside the double windows.  We've always said it's a bit like a tree house with such pretty views. There is a charming sloped ceiling too - basically he's very lucky and we've already told Charlie he can get his turn in this space when Andrew goes off to college. ( ps. sorry I didn't iron the bedskirt and straighten the sheets - I was running against the clock and a low camera battery...)   The first change we made was replacing the former red curtains with bamboo shades.  They are not lined which works for Andrew.  It allows the most light in during the day. It is always dark when he goes to bed at night too, no matter what the season, so blackout lining isn't really necessary anymore.  Another change we made was updating the original ceiling light.  It was too horrible for words.  I'm usually a sucker for original hardware and lighting but not in this case.^^

^^ The burlap bedskirt, red nightstands, lamps and bedding are all old.  The slipcovered headboard, monogrammed shams and small print lumbar pillow are all new.  The early 1900's map of Cape Cod over his bed is new too.  Andrew loves the map and picked it out.  We've been vacationing on the Cape and islands since he was a baby so he has many special memories associated with this little corner of the world.  The reproduction vintage jockey on a horse was a a gift from his Daddy when Andrew was a baby and sat on a shelf in his nursery.  The antique chair is new to the room, an estate sale find.  The French bamboo hook is from a local antique store.^^

^^ The lumbar pillow was custom made locally^^

^^ A vintage, 48 star, framed flag replaced the train prints and an antique empire dresser replaced the white nursery furniture that was here.  The dresser is my favorite piece for the room and the one investment item I added.  My hope is it will go with him to his first home one day, it's a classic and I'm glad I waited until he was a bit older to purchase it for him (hopefully that means he'll take better care of it).    The flag was an eBay find, made in Ohio the same year our home was built with pretty hand stitched stars and stripes and brass grommets.  I had it framed with a white background in a black wooden frame with a thin antique brass border.  Again, this purchase was made with the hope he keeps it forever as well.  All other dresser styling was done by Andrew - original Kenner StarWars action figures, his favorite mini figures and a rare Batman Lego.  Ok, I added the old globe, but the rest is all him. :)^^

^^ An antique Bokhara rug was added at the foot of the bed.  I can't tell you what a difference this made in the room.  There is a lot of Ikea furniture in here that I wouldn't be terribly sad to replace but the truth is that they are functional and inexpensive and really practical with children (teens) but adding an antique here and there, plus some texture + layers with an old rug or an old flag really helps the room feel less juvenile, more cozy and more collected all at the same time. ^^

^^We added the window seat and swing arm lamp when we moved in years ago, but I updated the fabrics when we freshen up the room.  The bulletin board is a catch all for whatever Andrew wants to put on there.  Bulletin boards and shelves are two necessary items in all kid spaces.^^

^^Adding these shelves completely changed the room. Prior he had is favorite Lego displayed (I use that term loosely) on a bookcase, but the shelves were too deep so everything ended up looking like piles of junk.  I added the narrow depth open shelving to make this an ever changing large art feature in the room.  He switches it around when he completes new sets.  The wooden shelves are stair treads from Lowes and the brackets are from Ikea. (painted by me to match his trim) We did have them professionally hung because with plaster walls and the need for level and evenly spaced shelving this was a project we didn't care to attempt on our own.  Lego that aren't on display in his room are either on display in the playroom or stored in his Lego cupboard.^^

^^ Everything here - the ladder shelves, desk, chair, lamp - has stayed the same.  They aren't my favorite but Andrew likes them, so function and his preference won out for the time being .  I would really prefer a pine table for the desk and a wingback chair in this spot so it isn't such an Ikea explosion.   The only addition was the Star Wars movie poster. Originally we had planned to add the Cape Cod map over his desk and a trio of movie posters over his bed, but once we saw how busy the movie posters looked, we decided just to display his favorite and keep the map over the bed instead.  This is where Andrew sets up and conducts all his stop motion film making!^^  

^^ The closet to the right of his desk is the designated Lego cupboard.  I will not be photographing it anytime soon, but it is filled with a California Closet System of shelves that house lots of lidded plastic bins full of Lego.  It is a large closet with space for several rolling carts with, you guessed it, more Lego and film backboards, camera equipment, etc.  Basically, no clothes. The closet on the opposite side of the room has another dresser inside and racks for hanging clothing, though the top couple shelves have more Lego.  There are also 4 rolling bins under his bed. ;) ^^

^^ Again, having that old rug saves this little corner for me a bit.  Just a hint of something old nearby makes me like it a bit more. ^^

And that's it. For now.  No room in our home is ever finished.  There are still little changes that I will make here and there.  I'm still hunting for the perfect bedside lamps.  I have a pretty old engraving I bought of Paul Revere's home when I was in Boston that needs to be framed - a perfect print for this Revolutionary War history buff, plus it is a favorite North End spot for Jimmy and Andrew to visit when we are in Boston. The room will continue to evolve as more memories are collected and as his interests change and grow, which is often with young people.  Thanks for visiting! 


wall color: BM Manchester Tan
trim color: custom mix, formula: Y3: Ox 12.6875 | S1 1x 4.3750 | W1 Ox 22.5000 | R3 Ox 0.4375

flag, rug, dresser - antiques, estate sale or eBay finds

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Happy 2016 | NYE Menu + Thoughts on the Year Ahead

We rang in 2016 with our traditional fireside dinner as a family of four.  Charlie helped me set the table with plenty of party hats and noise makers. Everything on the dinner menu were tried and true favorites so it was easy to assemble (I made dessert the day before).  I'll include our menu with recipe links below. Following dinner there was some charade playing, a little dancing (break dancing moves from C) and a lot of dessert eating. Charlie was in bed by 9:00, very late for him, while Andrew stayed up with Jimmy and I to watch the ball drop.  All in all, not the most exciting way to celebrate but certainly my favorite.

There were a number of times over break, when we were together as a family, where I caught myself willing the moment to memory.  My favorite evening was a couple days before Christmas when we went down to Fountain Square to go ice skating.  It was unseasonably warm and the rink wasn't very busy.  Christmas music was playing over the speakers, all the twinkling lights turned on as the sun went down and we all were so happy together.  Just as we started what was to be our final lap around the rink a rain shower (think monsoon) came out of nowhere and we got completely drenched as we ran for cover.  We laughed
and screamed yet managed to make our way across the street for dinner over looking the square.  It's one of those days I'll probably forget in a year or two but I desperately don't want to because these are my very favorite kind of memories.  Just the four of us, happy, doing something quite ordinary but enjoying each other's company so much.  All these little moments that make a life, I hate to think how many I've forgotten over the years, all the reason to be more present while they are happening (Meaning, put the phone away!  Sometimes in an effort to document these everyday moments I find I'm distracted rather than engaged while they are happening.  If that even makes sense?  So that night I had my phone in my pocket and we stopped just for a second to have a stranger snap our picture and then the phone went right back to the pocket again.  Sorry instagram.)

As I've said in past years, I'm not a big resolution maker but the one thing I intend to be more mindful of this year is my screen time, especially with my phone.  I took a little hiatus over winter break and it was so freeing.   So here's to memory making in 2016, to being present, to being gentler on myself and more forgiving of life's little hiccups! Cheers!

Our NYE Dinner Menu ~ shrimp cocktail (bought pre cooked fresh shrimp and served with lemon wedges and pre-made cocktail sauce - easy) || rosemary & garlic rack of lamb || Gruyere & thyme popovers || basil, Parmesan potato puree || sauteed grape tomatoes || buche de noel, topped with sparklers for dessert 

Friday, January 1, 2016

Christmas | Packaging Treats + Peppermint Bark Recipe

Um, yes, I know, no one is blogging about Christmas anymore and I debated even doing this post myself, but I loved the way my treat packages looked this year, so let's just think of this inspiration for next year!

If I'm being honest, Christmas just didn't feel the same this year for me.  I never published a Christmas Home Tour, Part 2.  Nor did I do a bow tying tutorial for that matter (I will soon, though, just need to schedule time with my resident film maker!)  I didn't bake as much for friends or family either.  In fact sugar cookies are on the docket for today because I never did get around to making any and the requests are at an all time high! :)  The whole holiday season went by far too quickly and even though I wasn't rushing about or stressing over last minute preparations, I didn't get that magical Christmas feeling with the same intensity as I usually do.  It was still a happy month for sure, with joyful anticipation and grateful hearts, just taken down a notch. For the first time ever I wasn't heart broken to put away our decorations.   I'm still a bit puzzled as to why, but 2016 is here now and we are moving on.  Well, after this post at least, then it's on to focusing on the year ahead!

^^ I did use lots of satin gold ribbon this year on wreaths and packages.  (source here)  I loved the idea of using blue at Christmas, it feels fresh and looks so pretty with greenery. The craft boxes (source) were for cookies, the small blue boxes were used for peppermint bark.  I use them for my decorating business when sending fabric samples to clients but I knew they would be great for wrapping up flat shaped treats too. I buy the boxes wholesale in bulk, similar style here.^^

^^ I absolutely adore these chef medallions from Felix Doolittle, perfect for anytime of year and would be such a cute gift for any cooks in your life. ^^

^^ I bought mini wreaths and glue gunned a navy rick rack ribbon (ribbon from Walmart) on them and then glue gunned them to gingham gift tags.  On the back I wrote what was inside.  I bought the gift tags on clearance at Paper Source at the end of summer last year.  You could easily make them using gingham scrapbook paper or cardstock sold at craft stores.  The mini wreaths were from Michaels.^^

^^ The boxes were lined with gingham food safe paper from the Container Store.^^

Recipe | Layered Peppermint Crunch Bark
(source: adapted from Bon Appetit: The Christmas Season cookbook)

17 ounces good quality white chocolate
30 red and white striped hard peppermint candies, coarsely crushed (note: I used Whole Foods candy canes instead, place in freezer size ziplock back and gently crush with meat mallet or rolling pin)
7 ounces bittersweet (not unsweetened) or semi sweet chocolate, chopped
6 TBS whipping cream
3/4 tsp peppermint extract

Turn a large baking sheet bottom side up.  Cover securely with foil.  Mark a 12 x 9 inch rectangle on the foil.  Stir white chocolate in a metal bowl set over saucepan of simmering water until chocolate is melted and smooth.  Remove from over water.  Pour 2/3 cup of melted chocolate onto rectangle on foil.  Using icing spatula, spread chocolate to fill rectangle.  Sprinkle with 1/4 cup crushed peppermint.  Chill for 15 minutes.

Stir bittersweet, cream and peppermint extract in a heavy, medium saucepan over medium-low heat until just melted and smooth.  Pour bittersweet chocolate mixture in long lines over white chocolate rectangle.  Using spatula, spread into an even layer.  Refrigerate for 25-30 minutes.

Rewarm remaining white chocolate in bowl over simmering water.  Working quickly, pour white chocolate over firm bittersweet chocolate layer, spread to cover.  Immediately sprinkle with remaining peppermint candy.  Refrigerate for 30 minutes.

Lift foil with bark on it to a cutting board and cut bark crosswise into 2 inch wide strips, slide bark off foil and cut each strip crosswise into 3 sections and each section diagonally into 2 triangles (or cut bark into whatever shapes you like - like I did!! :)) Can be made 2 weeks ahead. Chill in airtight container.  Let stand at room temp for 10 minutes before serving if you like, I prefer it straight from the fridge.  They are so good and very addictive!