Saturday, March 22, 2014

Spring's the thing ...

Dining al fresco is the first thing I think of when the Spring season arrives. I love, love, really love inviting family and friends over to dine outdoors under our wisteria-covered pergola.

Image of Alamodeus' pergola set for a soiree.

I love sharing a warm, welcoming evening under the stars. Simple setting, hearty food and great conversation is what it's all about. And, it's been far too long since we last hosted a soiree.

Image of Jacqui Getty's LA garden.

During the winter, I came across some charming al fresco images that have given me color and tablesetting inspiration for our next gathering.

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We may not live in Provence, but all of the same casual elements are in place for a memorable dining experience that transcends locale and focuses on a natural setting that embraces comfort, good food and fine wine.

 

Images above via I'm All Amazed (left) and Splenderosa (right).

I make every effort to introduce our homegrown herbs and vegetables in the dishes we serve, and our guests really seem to enjoy the fresh, local and seasonal delights at the table. We let our guests know the menu on the invitation, and each brings a bottle of wine to share, so we are all tasting something new that pairs well with the food at the table.

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We keep our guest list to no more than 12 in order to comfortably seat everyone at our extended table. But, smaller more intimate dinner parties are just as fun.

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While I'm heady with the arrival of warmer days, my dear husband is channeling the season's opening his way ... power washing the patios, walkways and stone floors. Welcome to Spring!

On the menu: Antipasto Olive Salad

When the weather warms, I love to turn to a variety of healthy salads for their incredible taste and texture. Salads are great for entertaining, too, since they can be served chilled or at room temperature. Among the favorites to make ahead: Antipasto Olive Salad.


We had a wonderful harvest from our little olive grove this past season, so I'm partial to incorporating olives (or at least our own olive oil) in a salad that satisfies my passion for artichokes, too. This really makes a meal when served with a warm loaf of rustic bread and a good rosé wine (don't listen to the wine snobs, a good rosé is a perfect pairing.)

ANTIPASTO OLIVE SALAD RECIPE
Ingredients:
1lb mixed olives-Sicilian green, Calamata, pitted (and not stuffed.)
1 jar artichokes, quartered and drained
1 jar roasted red peppers, cut into strips
3 stalks of celery, thinly sliced
½ cup tender celery leaves
1 garlic clove, minced
½ small red onion, sliced
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1 small hot pepper, chopped (or a pinch of red pepper flakes)
¼ cup fresh Italian parsley, rough chop
1 cup smoked Scarmoza, cut into small cubes (may substitute provolone, mozzarella or your favorite cheese)
2 tablespoons white wine vinegar
½ cup olive oil

Directions:
Put all ingredients into a large bowl and mix. Serve at room temperature.



Sticks and stones ...

The saying goes, "Fences make the best neighbors." If that's so, then the use of natural elements to create private landscapes must make beautiful neighbors. That's why I try to keep every salvageable branch and stick for garden projects.

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Privacy screens, fences and gates made from natural materials have a warm and inviting appeal.

 

Images above via Apartment Therapy (left) and Finders Keepers (right).

Maybe I'm drawn to them because of their bespoke appearance - uniquely crafted for their designed purpose without the rigor of perfection.

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It's not just tree limbs that capture my heart. I lust for stone as well. Handsome rock walls and pathways bring added depth and character that create memorable landscapes.

Smooth river rock is a landscape favorite.

No one creates beautiful pathways better than my friends Wayne and Sam at Palm Buddha. They have an eye for perfect plant pairings and stone placement that recreate natural woodland settings. 

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The beauty of these spaces is most evident when the work of human hands is less discernible. Sure, it takes plenty of muscle power, man hours and material to create delightful gardens, but the sensory pleasure is heightened when improvements look like the work of Mother Nature.

 


Sticks and stones make my bones happy in a lush, green garden.




Saturday, March 15, 2014

Bark art ...

Rarely have I seen papier-mâché sculpture as expressive or candid as the work created by Will Kurtz. This self-taught artist from Flint, Michigan actually started his career as a landscape architect but returned to school at age 50 to master his artistic expression in New York.


A gallerist familiar with Kurtz' work summarized the artist's material choices, "As important as the subjects to understanding Kurtz’s works is the medium – discarded and recycled bits of print publication, DIY building and packaging supplies, along with everyday objects that bring a sense of familiarity to the works."



What he does with these bits and scraps is playful and honest. Not just the way he captures man's best friend, but in the reality of human subjects that surround his Brooklyn neighborhood.




I love the 'realness' of his sculptures.  If you're in the neighborhood, check out the work of Will Kurtz at the Mike Weiss Gallery at 520 W. 24th Street in New York City.


Go small, or go home ...

If you know me well, you know that I long to own a little pied-à-terre in Paris.  We've been renting an apartment each time we visit The City of Light, but my husband and I hope to extend our visits in the years to come. One thing we know for sure, we'll have to learn to live small.

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Paris kitchens always seems to lack the space we Americans take for granted. But, I'm not there to spend my time cooking. There are so many amazing restaurants that kitchens are relegated to whipping up a snack or two, okay maybe a breakfast as well.

 

The photos above via West Elm (left) and Crate and Barrel (right) attest to the 'less is more' concept.

All that kitchens really need are the essentials, and space isn't necessarily one of them. Nowhere is this more apparent than in the miniscule kitchen of television chef Rachel Khoo who has authored 'The Little Paris Kitchen' cookbook.


Yes, that is her actual kitchen, and she cooks on a two-burner hot plate perched on a butcher block-topped stainless steel storage cart that houses her mini-oven. The entire workspace can't possibly measure more than 6' x 6'.


Yet, she has been able to churn out some of the most fabulous fare in the entire city.  No doubt, it has been a lesson in organization and keeping only items that have multiple functions.

Click here for The Little Paris Kitchen Cookbook

Prep and dining often share space in little apartments, but that doesn't mean they are any less appealing. Pared down furnishings and attractive decor give those diminutive areas loads of personality.

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With fresh produce available at every market, even the small refrigerators are all that's needed.

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Say what you will about IKEA, but that Scandinavian modern style is perfectly suited to make the most of shrinky dink kitchens.

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I'm ready to live a more compact life. Now, it's time to start working toward my goal of setting up house (at least part-time) in an itsy bitsy teeny weeny pied-à-terre.


Saturday, March 1, 2014

Daydream believers ...

I have figured out how to fully enjoy outdoor lounging. Take a simple daybed, add some pizzazz with color, and most importantly hang some mosquito netting!

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Decorator, tastemaker, shopkeeper and blogger Francine Gardner placed two wrought iron daybeds on her Connecticut home's terrace and dressed them in monotone flax weaves (above).  

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But, the addition of vintage fabrics collected on her global treks and much needed mosquito netting gave her daybeds personality and the power to entice visitors to a mid-day snooze.

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HGTV designer Genevieve Gorder captured the allure of Francine Gardner's porch daybeds in a short video segment. Click here to watch the inspiration found in her simple, yet dynamic aesthetic.

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I'm sold on the mosquito netting and have decided to create a lounge spot on the porch of my studio. I'm thinking of repurposing a baby crib or locating an old iron frame to create the daybed.

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Who can resist? I'm a daydream believer!



Are you going to eat that?

There are just some tasty morsels that beckon the question, "Are you going to eat that? I'd be entirely happy to take those off your plate, or hands."

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Just about any savory cracker fits in that category, but add cheese and herbs, and my low carb pledge flies out the window!  My newest taste obsession is Rosemary Parmesan Crackers. These are so simple to make and are fabulous solo or served with a soft, creamy cheese.

ROSEMARY PARMESAN CRACKER RECIPE

Ingredients:
1 1/2 cups finely grated Parmesan cheese
3/4 cup all-purpose flour
1-2 teaspoons crushed rosemary
1/4 cup cold unsalted butter, cut into bits
1 tablespoon plus 2 teaspoons water
a dash of kosher salt

Directions:
Combine all ingredients into a food processor. Pulse until it forms a coarse meal.

On a work surface, knead the dough until it is just combined. Form into a log about one inch in diameter. Chill the dough, wrapped in the wax paper, for 1 hour, or until it is firm enough to slice.

Preheat the oven to 375°F. Cut the dough into rather thin slices, arrange the slices 1 inch apart on wax paper. Cover with a second sheet of wax paper. Using a rolling pin, roll each piece until very thin.

Carefully move to parchment lined baking sheets, and bake them in batches in the middle of the oven for 6 minutes, or until they are golden around the edges. Remove from heat and allow to cool long enough to be flipped over carefully.

Put the trays back in to the oven for another 3-4 minutes. Allow to cool slightly. Transfer the crackers carefully with a spatula to a rack, let them cool fully, and sprinkle them with additional rosemary.


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