May 7th, 2009 |

Farmer’s Market Dinner Party

Farmer's Market Dinner Party (small)

With the arrival of spring finally here, I am so enjoying cooking with the  light, fresh flavors of the new season. Asparagus, artichokes, strawberries – oh, the list could go on and on!   My favorite source for peak-of-season produce? The local farmers’ market.   Not only do I pick up fresh fruits and vegetables, many markets also offer locally produced breads, cheeses, other specialty foods……not to mention gorgeous flowers!  When I’m planning a Spring or Summer dinner party – it’s one stop shopping – I can pick up my ingredients and supplies for my centerpiece all in one place!

To help make your farmers’ market shopping more pleasurable, here are a few tips from Williams Sonoma:

Bring plenty of small bills plus shopping bags or baskets. Arrive early for the best selection—and to avoid the crowds. Before you buy, stroll through the market to see what’s available and to compare prices and quality. Many farmers encourage customers to taste before buying. And be sure to talk with the growers. They’re happy to introduce you to new and unusual ingredients and to offer cooking suggestions.

Farmer’s Market’s are a great place to gather fresh ingredients – but there is a way to make it even easier on yourself to eat locally and seasonally, all the while supporting farmers and taking advantage of the abundance of each season: by subscribing to a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) program.  Local Harvest is a CSA program that offers subscriptions all over the country.  Each week, you’ll get a box brimming with that week’s harvest.  No requests – you will get what is in season at that time and the selection varies from region to region and from farm to farm.  But if you like to experiment and love to try new things – this could be a great program for you!

Now that my local Farmer’s Market has begun, I have decided to host a dinner party in the garden using all fresh produce.  When you’re cooking from the farmers’ market, keep preparations simple so the garden-fresh flavors can shine.  I am going to serve a salad of mixed greens and toasted baguette slices topped with warm goat cheese, and fish fillets with asparagus and orange.  For dessert, something lemony…  stay tuned for ideas!

I love the idea of setting up an outdoor dining room – use your table as the central focus, place some throw pillows on the chairs, hang a light fixture or lanterns from the trees above the table to define the space.  Set up a bar on a garden work bench, and enhance with bowls of fresh fruits and vegetables.  Create some ambiance by decorating the space with lanterns.  A few ideas for setting the table – use cotton linens and create a loose centerpiece of seasonal blooms and fruit (have a bunch of grapes overflowing, or a few baby artichokes or lemons placed into the arrangement).  Use woven charger plates to add a natural feel to the table, and enhance your napkin with a raffia tie and fresh vegetable such as a radish or carrots.

This Famer’s Market dinner party is a recipe for success – great, healthy food, a stunning setting and good friends!  What could be better?!

Images: radish napkin (bhg.com), goat cheese salad (williams-sonoma.com), white ceramic and woven dishes, outdoor bar (potterybarn.com), garden table (artfool.com)

May 5th, 2009 |

Napkin of the Week: Daisy Embellishment

daisy-embellishmentThis is a festive way to dress up any Spring table….lovely for Mother’s Day or a Bridal Shower!

Cut a white ribbon into a 14-inch piece. Using silk daisies, trim stems close to the flower’s head. Lightly mark the halfway point on ribbon. Working from center, adhere two daisies on either side.

To create fan with your napkin, start from the bottom and fold napkin accordion style. Tie at the middle with daisy chain.

Image and instructions via Parents.com

May 4th, 2009 |

Spa Day Party at Home

With everyone concerned about the economy these days, people are cutting back on luxuries such as Spa treatments, yoga classes, and weekly mani/pedi’s.  It is such a shame….because everyone needs a little pampering now and again!  Take matters into your own hands, and invite your friends over for a Spa Day at home.

Spa Party at Home (small)

An ideal party for Mother’s Day, a bridal shower or to celebrate a special birthday….a Spa Day at home gives you and your friends a chance to spend the day together pampering yourselves.

First, decide on what “treatments” or activities you will have available:

  • Try calling a local nail salon to see if they have 2 manicurists that could come to your party to give manicures and pedicures.  If you can schedule your party for a time when the salon is closed…chances are the technicians would be happy to come make a little extra money!
  • Facial masks are an absolutely must!  Check out this do-it-yourself skin-brightening mask from Martha Stewart.  Made with 3 simple ingredients – it’s sure to leave your skin with a rosy, healthy glow!
  • Call a local massage therapy school to see if they have any students that might want to come over to practice their skills.
  • BYOM – Have your guests bring their own yoga mats and do a group yoga class out on your lawn.

Set up different lounging areas in your home so people can relax throughout the day – place big, bright colored pillows on the floor for people to sit on.  The use of scented candles, black stones, vases with a single bloom of orchids, and pitchers of water will help your guests feel more like they are at a Spa retreat.  Don’t forget to put out some healthy treats – trays of crudites, fresh fruit and fruit smoothies are sure to keep everyone energized.

Images: facial masks, seating area (inmagine.com), foot soak (rachelraymag.com), crudites tray (southernliving.com)

May 1st, 2009 |

Friday Night: Pasta Party with Friends

Pasta Party (small)

I don’t know about you….but it’s been kind of a boring week!  One day it’s nice, the next day it looks like it could snow again.  I decided we needed a little excitement as we moved into the weekend.

Invite friends over for a Pasta Party – all you need is some good wine, some fresh pasta and a few good recipes to give your guests a lovely evening!

Fresh pasta is much lighter and tender in texture than dried pasta.  If you have the time – it makes a huge difference in your recipes.  Click here for tips on making fresh pasta from Williams Sonoma.  I think you should serve a buffet of 3-4 different pastas, so that people can taste a few.  Serve up a light salad, some fresh bread – oh, and don’t forget to have fresh parmesan to grate on top of the pastas!

Here are some of my favorite pasta recipes – hope you enjoy them as much as I do!

Buon Appetito!  Bon Appetit!  (Enjoy your Pasta Party!)

Images: pastas (williams-sonoma.com), pasta prep (matthewmeadstyle.com), fresh pasta (angelayeung.com)

April 30th, 2009 |

Fuschia & Yellow Spring Party

Yellow & Pink Birthday Party (small)

Now the weather is starting to get nicer, my mind keeps filling with ideas of outdoor entertaining.  I live in the Midwest, so there are only a few months out of the year that you can actually throw a party outside.  There are just so many options – pitch a tent in your backyard, lay out blankets in the park for a picnic, hang lanterns from the trees over your patio to create a modern candlelight dinner.   I have so many ideas….and Spring has only just begun!

This inspiration could be used for any type of Spring or Summer party.  It would be a fabulous baby shower, a festive birthday party, or a relaxing lunch following a bachelorette spa day.  Or you can just use the change of season as an excuse to gather your favorite ladies for lunch outside.  Whatever your reason is to celebrate, just make sure you do it in style!

I used solid, bold colors to acheive this modern picnic – sunny yellow, fuschia pink – throw in a stripe or two and let the festivities begin!  You can create this “tent” by inserting white stakes into the ground and attaching a canopy of fabric (available by yard at your local fabric store).  Not only does it frame your celebration, but it also shades your guests from the sun!

The yellow and white stripe screams traditional Spring, but the fuschia accessories….that’s where the modern look comes into play.  Try fuschia Lucite wine glasses, candle holders, vases and serving pieces.   You can carry your color palette throughout your food too….when I think of yellow, I think of lemons!  Try serving a lemon soufle as your dessert.

I hope this post has inspired you to host your own modern picnic!

Images: table setting and flower boxes (midwestliving.com), rock candy (amyatlas.com), wine glass (target.com), stack of plates (potterybarn.com), pink drinks (brides.com), pink placecards (plumparty.com), favor box (theknot.com)

April 29th, 2009 |

Celebrate Mother’s Day on the Patio

Mother's Day on the Patio (small)

Celebrate the women in your life this year with lunch on the patio.  Outdoor entertaining can be easy – a simple menu, a refreshing cocktail and a clean, Spring-like table will set the mood for a festive day!

Set up your party out on the patio with a color palette of blue & white, with an accent of pink.  White dishes look fresh when mixed with a patterned placemat and solid napkin.  Mix together different shades of pink peonies, and tuck into a cobalt blue vase to use as your centerpiece.  You could also put a single peony into a small vase and place onto each place setting as a favor.

Serve a healthy lunch of grilled tuna with provencal vegetables, with frozen lemonade with blackberry puree to drink.  Throw a loaf of french bread on the grill to serve alongside the tuna.  For dessert – wow them with individual raspberry and chocolate tarts!

Looking for the perfect Mother’s Day gift?!

mothers-day-gifts-small

Gifts:  Kate Spade Camilla Lane vases (macys.com),  monogrammed lucite tray (dabneyleeathome.com), Tory Burch handbag (toryburch.com), Kate Spade enamel bracelets (nordstrom.com), candle lanterns (crateandbarrel.com)

Images: peonies (flickr.com), place setting (traditionalhome.com), outdoor room (restorationhardware.com)

April 28th, 2009 |

Napkin of the Week: White!

white-dishes-intro-copy

This week, I thought I should focus on the most common and readily available napkin – the crisp, white napkin.  Used for centuries, a white napkin has graced many dinner tables – both casual and formal.  You can fold it different ways, tie it with different ribbons, even lay a seasonal bloom gently on top of it.  It’s a clean palette – you can change the look of it in an instant.

The only issue with white napkins?  How to keep them clean!  All it takes is one, tiny little stain – and suddenly your crisp, elegant napkin looks old and tired!  In order to help you care for your white linens, here are a few tips that I thought might be helpful:

To launder white table linens, soak them first before washing. For badly stained tablecloths and napkins, you can use household bleach.  (But use warm water and a mild soap or detergent to wash colored and delicate white linens.)  While the linens are still damp, put a hot iron to them and continue until they are completely dry.

Napkins and tablecloths should be ironed on both sides. To iron a tablecloth fold it wrong side out, lengthwise. Iron it with the thread of the material. Refold the cloth right side out and iron it again, pressing in the center crease. Fold it lengthwise a second time, then crosswise several times without pressing the folds. One sharp crease down the center is all you want.

Iron napkins first on the wrong side, beginning with the corners and getting them properly right-angled to avoid distorting the weave, then iron them on the right side. Fold or roll as you wish.

Image via Pottery Barn

April 26th, 2009 |

Cinco de Mayo Celebration

Cinco de Mayo Party (small)

Cinco de Mayo (otherwise known as the 5th of May) is a day to party and to celebrate, and also a good time to get a taste of Mexican culture.  If you can gather some festive drinks, colorful decorations and try your hand at some traditional Mexican food….you can throw a Cinco de Mayo Fiesta!

If you’re going to throw a fabulous party, you’ll need to decorate. Colored paper flowers, paper lanterns, and strings of white lights in the trees are a great way to liven up any party in a hurry. Pinatas are a traditional decoration and are a fun activity for kids at the party.  The most important thing when decorating for Cinco de Mayo?!  Use color! There is nothing mild about the Mexican culture – many homes and businesses in Mexico are filled with vibrant colors such as turquoise, fuchsia, yellow, red, purple and lime green.

Here are a couple of tips for decorating:

  • Buy solid color paper plates, napkins and cups using a combination of the Fiesta colors.
  • Hang Sombreros on walls, and use them during the party for a Cinco de Mayo Mexican Hat Dance.
  • Buy piñatas to hang from tree branches or to use as a centerpiece for tables.
  • Burn chunky, vibrant candles all night.
  • Drape white lights in trees surrounding the party area.
  • Have colorful, wood maracas at each place setting – tie them together with raffia and attach a placecard.

On to the south-of-the-border menu – begin with icy cold margaritas and quacamole, a warm bowl of chicken-tortilla soup. For the main course, set up a taco bar with colorful bowl of toppings – cheese, lettuce, avocado, tomatoes, and peppers.  Serve up some grilled corn with cheese and lime on the side – yum!  And for dessert – try mixing a little margarita mix into white cupcake batter.  Decorate with a slice of lime on top – very festive!

Images: party (detailsdetails.com), margarita (williams-sonoma.com)

April 24th, 2009 |

Kentucky Derby: Day in the Garden

Kentucky Derby Party (small)

For 135 years, the Kentucky Derby has been everyone’s race – from the dapper men and beautiful women, all in hats and sipping on frosty mint juleps, to the laid-back crowd who picnic on the in-field on fried chicken.

The Kentucky Derby is more than just a race — it’s an annual society event. Since the first Derby in 1875, the race has become steeped in traditions ranging from specific food and drink to proper Derby attire.

One of the best part’s of The Kentucky Derby is enjoying a lovely day outside.  Although you will be glued to the TV to watch the actual race – bring your party outside to enjoy the rest of the day in the garden.  Set up tables with bright linens, and centerpieces that are loose and colorful.  Serve a buffet of traditional southern food – fried green tomatoes, bourbon-marinated pork tenderloin, fried chicken, and blackberry & toasted pecan cobbler for dessert.

kentucky-derby-tickets-plumparty

No matter how you decide to celebrate the Derby this year – there is one tradition that everyone must do: you have to serve the official drink: Mint Julep. The cocktail consists of bourbon, mint and sugar syrup, and is traditionally served in a silver julep cup with a sprig of mint.

If you want to organize a friendly wager for the race – check out these tickets from Plum Party.

For those ladies lucky enough to actually attend the Derby, the biggest question leading up to the race isn’t in regards to who is going to win….it’s all about what outrageous hat they will be donning that day!  It’s about color, extravagance, and definitely a touch of drama!
Derby Hats (small)

Images: garden (fineartamerica.com), flowers (artfool.com), race (kentuckyderby.com), invitation (ashleybrookedesigns.com), mint juleps and food (southernliving.com), hats (latimes.com)

April 23rd, 2009 |

Creative Spring Centerpiece

I love this idea from Simply Stated…..what a great centerpiece idea for Mother’s Day, a baby shower or little girl’s birthday party!

flower-table-runner

What You’ll Need:

  • Sharp scissors
  • Drinking straws
  • 2 boxes of wheatgrass (sold in flats or boxes at health-food stores and flower shops)
  • 12 to 16 gerbera daisies
  • A pencil

For such a creative look – this is so simple to put together.  Cut the straws to match the height of the grass.  Then snip the daisy stems so they are slightly longer than the straws, and gently slide each stem into a straw.  If the straws are too narrow for the stems, slit the straws from top to bottom.  Poke holes in the soil with the pencil. Stick the straw-sheathed flowers into the holes.

Don’t forget to lightly water the soil to help the flowers stay fresh!

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