06/17/2017

Entertain like a Parisian

After days of taking in mansard roofs and sculptures with missing arms, a repose from the bustle of Paris happened within a sort of private museum. The home of my cousin is a mix of personalized art collections mixed with family life, an apt representation of a people who can pull off skinny suits and dresses with avant garden cuts like no other. This innate style translates to home and entertaining.

A lavish table spread relates to the grandeur of the dining room.

The Setting:

We marvel at the French’s ability to execute simple sophistication–personified in this setting via bundles of flowers set in stubby silver urns, three tiered candelabras, a layering of heavy tablecloths and mix of tableware.

The table is a centerpiece within a dining room that displays collections in every possible nook. Museum-worthy drawings, paintings and important collections take you to a time where guests dressed in wigs and shoe buckles (one of my cousins collections). The walls are painted in regal mint green trimmed with gilded moldings. Above a Juliet balcony leads to a private room. Even the omission of industrial, air conditioned blasts confirm our presence in a Parisian space.

The Meal:

Forget dietary constraints of finicky guests or meals delivered in aluminum trays, there was a selection of foods that encouraged sampling. The variety of small plats relates to the early June season with prosciutto, trays of cheese, cold ham, breads, tapenade and large bowls of cherries, apricots and potato chips–a favorite with the younger guests. A tray of gazpacho and pureed pea served in orange juice glasses was well received. Champagne was the main drink of the evening.

Such an intimate setting united guests and gave insight into the customs of gracious hosts. Gathering over food and drink is always a good idea.

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06/02/2017

Ultimate Boy’s Birthday Party

A styled celebration with games is not exclusive to brides-to-be or expecting moms who have to wear silly hats made from the gift wrapping. You can tastefully host a group of elementary schoolers without depending on a Xbox truck.

Such was the agenda with my son’s seventh birthday. In fact, the main source of entertainment was chests of sporting goods dragged from the shed. Then something miraculous and innovative happened. Luc and his guests created their own games! Yes, that old-fashioned concept where children use their imagination to entertain. While moderation was needed for a few moments where the play became a tad aggressive in homage to Lord of the Flies, overall it was fun and they got their after school ya yas out. What may be most surprising is that they chose to play over breaking for the inviting spread of food, which included sweet options. Playtime trumped eating. My son actually became slightly annoyed when I intruded on their activity to see if he and his guests would like to have the cake.

Assemble a group of boys, add some sporting goods, and healthy play happens. Batteries not needed.

The scheme of the party centers around the season. Luc’s birthday fortunately falls on June 1. Its subtle launch into summer has always revolved around an outdoor/at home party. While organization and cleanup can be a challenge, I mix festive dishware in our color palette with paper plates, napkins, cake topper and straws that share the look.

 

A mix of paper goods with my own pieces, which are both attractive and cuts on cleanup time.

A colorful cake topper can compensate for an imperfect homemade cake.

We have created an annual tradition where Luc picks the kind of cake he wants for us to bake. This year he chose lemon with vanilla frosting and coconut. However, as a working mother, I always have a bakery back up as insurance for a possible cooking catastrophe. I had been scouting the fondant cookies at my local market since Memorial Day and became overly enthusiastic when, on the morning of the party, they had cookies made as hotdogs, lemonade and watermelon. It was meant to be. Every year we serve Luc’s favorites of seasonal watermelon and lemonade drunk from small milk jars.

To accommodate the young guests, and offer something that’s not pulled from a cardboard box, we had hotdogs, corn, fruit and a cold Greek pasta salad simply made with penne, cut tomatoes, onion, cucumber and an Italian vinaigrette.

As the table is being set, the colors of seasonal foods stand out.

Greek pasta made with vegetables, feta cheese and diced herbs from the garden.

Overall the young guests enjoyed themselves and were reacquainted to classic celebrating.

Blowing the candles brings out the best in a birthday boy.

05/20/2017

Ultimate “Healthy” Ice Cream Social

Ice cream. Forget yoga chants or preaching motivational snippets in the mirror, just say ice cream and you’re instantly grounded, squeezing back into your little kid self where life’s punches could be soothed from one lick of the frosty sweet pleasure. Eating ice cream has the ability to lighten a mood. Experiencing marital discord? Go out for ice cream. The kids are not getting along? Ice cream. Inter-office conflicts? You get it.

Creative flavors abound with natural ingredients you can read from Halo Top.

Though the fine print killjoy of an ice cream obsession includes weight gain, high blood pressure and other health offenders. There is a solution. Taste your way through all natural, low sugar varieties, which is a great option if you are a pint eater like myself.

Phin & Phebes offers innovative flavors with natural ingredients that don’t scrimp on taste.

 

Ice Cream + real ingredients = happy

Ellen McCormick, Phin and Phebes head of business development, enjoys a good bowl of artisnal ice cream in such flavors as Vanilla Cinnamon and Toasted Green Tea churned with real ingredients. Says McCormick, “I generally prefer to eat things made with simple ingredients, and a lot of the so-called ‘healthy’ ice cream out there is loaded with a lot of ingredients I can’t even pronounce. I’d rather eat something that has more calories but is made with simple ingredients than something that’s low calorie and made with ingredients that make me wonder just how healthy it actually is.”

Take this sensual exercise further by hosting an ice cream tasters party where guests can sample their way through assorted flavors and espouse informed notes on their findings. To create your event, simply serve ice cream by the pint, whipped cream, and enough toppings to rival your local ice cream parlor. Pull in those soda fountain details to seal the theme.

Toppings:

Berries
Candy
Chia seeds
Cinnamon
Crushed peppermint
Coffee
Cereal
Chocolate sauce
Coconut
Cookie crumbs
Dried fruit
Flavored seltzer
Fruit
Fudge
Granola
Graham crackers
Gummy bears
Jam
Honey
Marshmallows
Nuts
Nut butter
Pie crumbs
Pretzels
Sprinkles

Resources:

Halo Top ice cream: https://www.halotop.com
Phin and Phebes ice cream: http://phinandphebes.com
Ice cream bowls: https://www.duralexusa.com/tableware/Gigogne-Ice-Cream-Cups-cat28.html
Viva dessert spoons: https://www.frenchbull.com/collections/colorful-scoop-dessert-spoons/products/viva-dessert-spoon-set-of-6
Wooden paddle spoon: https://hardwood-stix.com/popsicle-sticks-craft-sticks/ice-cream-sticks-and-spoons/3.6-wood-taster-spoon
Paper napkins: www.caspari.com
Red cloth tea towel: www.Robertarollerrabbit.com
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04/28/2017

Ultimate Guide to Healthy Kid Snacks

The morning whirl of organizing meals on-the-go can become more of a battle than preparation. You are competing with other activities like inspecting socks or packing a lunch free of snacks so salty they could brine a turkey. Discover ways to alter the snacking slump by considering healthy, packable options that don’t scrimp on nutrition. Call upon those good for you snack sized brands–packaged items with happy fonts, colors and illustrated logos made to look like cartoon characters. They become your support system in the morning jam. Another handy tip that works: prep the night before.

Portrait of a healthy, fuss-free snack bag.

Says Eliza Whetzel, RD, of Middleberg Nutrition, “Always follow nut-free or any guidelines for your child’s school or camp.” Then plan a day of balanced meals where every food is derived from a natural source. Says Savage, “Read the ingredient list! if you can’t read it, don’t eat it! try to keep to foods that are as unprocessed as possible.”

The beauty of fruit, an one ingredient food.

Whetzel offers these suggestions for a healthful, tasty day:

Pair a carb with protein or a healthy fat to promote satiety: protein and fat take longer to digest than carbohydrates, and will help to modulate blood sugar levels. This means no sugar high and then subsequent drop.

Snack sized hummus and crackers pairs carbs with protein.

Portion and frequency control—especially with children. I see kids who are grazing all day long, don’t eat their meals, and the parents can’t figure out what is happening. Create a specific snack time or times (maybe 10am and 3pm) and stick to it.

Healthy snacking is an early life lesson. Fruit will always be a go-to healthy option. Create designated meal times in order to avoid snacking.

Sensible Snack Options:

Apple sauce/fruit smashersCheese/string cheeseCereal/granolaCrackersDried fruit. Energy bars/granola bitesFreeze dried fruit. Fruit. Graham crackers. Guacamole. Hardboiled egg. Hummus. Lean, low-sodium deli meats like turkey and chicken. Low-calorie cookiesLow-fat milkNut butters. Olives. Popcorn. Rice cakes. Pretzels. Veggies and healthy dips like hummus and salsa. Yogurt.

Resources:

Almond butter packs: http://shop.justins.com/Chocolate-Hazelnut-Butter/p/JNB-000490&c=JustinsNutButters

Peanut butter packets: https://www.nuttzo.com

Apple Crisps fruits: https://www.horizon.com/products

Cactus water: http://truenopal.com/

Cookies: https://www.dickandjanebakingco.com

Dried fruit: www.madeinnature.com

Hummus: bluemooseofboulder.com

Granola bites: www.mysuperfoodscompany.com

Granola minis: www.madegoodfoods.com

String cheese: https://www.horizon.com/products

Organic low fat milk: https://www.horizon.com/products

Special K cereal: https://www.kelloggs.com/en_US/brands/special-k-consumer-brand.html#filter-gsaCategory=Crackers&num=12

Rice rusks: www.mummums.com

Rice cakes: https://www.lundberg.com

Yogurt: http://yoyummykids.com/

Glass containers: http://www.shopworldkitchen.com/simply-store-14-pc-set-w–multi-colored-lids/1081886.html#start=27

Lunch bag: http://dabbawallabags.com

04/04/2017

Easter Egg Decorating Basics

Let nature take its course is the theme for holiday decorating in our home. There are no Dollar Store outings where we rip items from their cellophane prisons to add loud package flash that looks inspired from a children’s cereal box. Decorating Easter eggs also follows a simple approach. It comes down to a few basics: non-reactive bowls, hardboiled white eggs, distilled vinegar and food coloring.

Easter egg decorating simplified when made with household items.

White eggs hold their own beauty and can mix well within the decor–even the carton has its own design appeal. For the dyes, stick to the main colors of the spectrum and you can play with combinations as you watch how your eggs hold their color. We also kept our bowls shallow and less colored to achieve the pastel shades.

Easter Egg Decorating Tips:

  1. Mix 8 tablespoons of vinegar, 1/4 cup of water and 5 drops of coloring (less for pastels, more for deeper shades). The vinegar helps brighten the shade.
  2. Keep paper towels on hand to soak up dye splatter.
  3. Allow enough time for eggs to sit, from 5-15 minutes depending on how deep you want the shade to set. Switch non-dyed side to another color. You can also add more dye mixture if you want the eggs to be coated in one color.
  4. Let dry in egg carton or plate lined with paper towels.
  5. Keep your children’s art supplies on hand so they can be creative with their decorating.
  6. Save some white hardboiled eggs and have the children draw Easter motifs. Or, design yourself and at breakfast tell the children that the decorated eggs must have come from the “Easter Chicken”.

Breakfast made with eggs from the “Easter Chicken” began a new tradition with my son.

Non-dyed eggs colored with marker.

Resources:

Easter basket: www.themountainthreadcompany.com/shop/colorful-easter-basket-with-handle

Gigogne ice cream cups: 
https://www.duralexusa.com/tableware/Gigogne-Ice-Cream-Cup-Pink-8-75-ounce- Set-of-6-plu5002EB06-6.html

Carrot garland: hobbylobby.com

03/23/2017

Ultimate Easter Basket

Forget the Easter basket spilling with flammable straw that takes months to clean up, create a display that looks so good you won’t want to eat the treats (but don’t do that). When browsing your holiday market aisle with an assault of colors so bright you need to wear sunglasses, the natural response is to stock up on all things spring and festive. Take the classic approach of this time honored tradition by focusing on chocolates created by artisans skilled in their craft and custom woven baskets that will have an appearance each holiday. We rounded up the best offerings in a few styles that will make the Easter Bunny envious.

A delicious mix of chocolates and novelties.

Begin with a solid basket, like this willow style with a cloth insert. Add shredded paper in your color scheme and style with Easter candies, pom poms and toys in likeminded colors.

Even grownups can look forward to receiving an Easter basket.

Using a fair trade basket as the starting point, pull from the colors and keep the styling simple. Surround with mini pom poms and chocolate Easter eggs to complete the look.

A simple basket with thoughtful touches.

This basket has a story. Made from 100% cotton rope in the Mountain Thread Company shop and studio in Blowing Rock, North Carolina, it shows the beauty in handcrafted work. Complimented by chocolate covered marzipan bars with packaging that recalls Easter’s past and inserted with a festive tea cloth, the basket has a soft appeal that will work past the holiday.

 

A free trade market basket shows a green approach alongside organic chocolates and toys that do not beep.

After a season of cold and dreary colors, a bright scheme is welcomed. A scattering of purple and orange carrots connect to the jewel tones of the African market bag. Add some gift items, like artful watercolors, that fit the look.

What you’ll need:

Gather quality supplies and candies that pack in more style than your local drug store variety. Begin with a festive basket, fill with colored paper or straw, and adorn with foiled wrapped candies and treats. Take the theme further with organic sweets and free trade wares that make a difference.

 

Resources:

White willow Easter basket: https://www.burtonandburton.com/?utm_source=bing&utm_medium=cpc&utm_campaign=Branded&utm_term=burton%2Bburton&utm_content=burton%20%2B%20BURTON%20-%20E

Market baskets: www.BasketsOfAfrica.com

Blue rope basket: www.themountainthreadcompany.com/shop/colorful-easter-basket-with-handle

Stuffed bunnies, chicks: www.jellycat.com

Gold bunnies, carrots, bugs and bees, white truffle eggs: www.lindt.com

White chocolate bunny, dark chocolate purple carrots, organic filled chocolates, mini gift basket: http://www.lakechamplainchocolates.

Organic Easter candies and eggs: lilliebellefarms.com

Bunny Munny: http://m.rmpalmer.com/easter/

Yellow chubby bunny: http://www.thompsonchocolate.com/products-easter.php

Chocolate marzipan bunny bars: http://www.niederegger.de/en_GB

Mini pom poms, carrot garland: hobbylobby.com

Tissue, corrugated paper wrappings: www.nashvillewraps.com

Yellow pom poms, watercolor set: http://shop.eeboo.com

Organic jelly beans: https://www.jellybelly.com/online-candy-store

03/17/2017

Hello Tokyo: The Ultimate Bento Box Guide

Tokyo has the energy and sense of humor of a child who collects all things Pokemon or Hello Kitty. It is loud, bright and doesn’t take itself too seriously, where it’s okay to dress in colorful rain slickers or style your hair in Minnie Mouse buns. Dining also has that pop art appeal, even eating a bento meal makes you feel like you are part of a graphic novel. In Hello Tokyo author Ebony Bizys features crafts and ideas to animate your home in this quirky style. Here, she shares her tips on how to on create a bento box like a native.

A bento box is a fun craft that will get a lot of play.

Bento Tip 1

FIVES

You might be aware of the “five color rule” that says each bento (lunch box) should contain at least five colors; however, you may not know that the ideal bento should be constructed according to five sets of five rules. These are:

+ Five colors: aka (red), kiiro (yellow), midori (green), kuro (black), shiro (white)

+ Five cooking methods: niru (simmer), musu (steam), yaku (grill), ageru (fry), tsukuru (create).

+ Five flavors: shiokarai (salty), suppai (sour), amai (sweet), nigai (bitter), karai (spicy)

+ Five senses: miru (see), kiku (hear), kyukaku (smell), ajiwau (taste), fureru (touch)

+ Five viewpoints or outlooks (gokan no mon): a set of Buddhist principles on the appropriate state of mind when consuming food I have a little “bento” drawer in my mini Shimokitazawa apartment. It’s full of cute accessories that inspire me to make bento boxes: bento dividers, bento belts, bento patties, sauce containers, and onigiri (rice ball) wrappers.

Follow the five color and idea rule to a successful bento.

There is another entire cupboard dedicated to furoshiki (wrapping cloth) used for bento wrapping. I also have a collection of bento lunch bags and bento freezer packs. When you buy refrigerated goods from fancier supermarkets in Tokyo, you often receive little refrigerator packs taped onto the cold goods. These reusable packs are great for keeping your bento fresh. You can also buy cute versions of these, such as heart shaped cold packs with sparkle dust inside and so on.

A bento is composed with a thoughtful assemblage of accessories.

Many Japanese stores, such as Daiso, sell a large range of bento accessories and essentials, such as seaweed punches, picks for small vegetables, and other obento items.

Look for Bento pieces online or make a trip to Japan where they are plentiful.

Bento Tip 2

BENTO DIVIDERS

Separate items in your bento with colorful dividers. Colored faux grass? So cute! This little fake lettuce divider has small perforations, allowing you to fit the divider perfectly to your bento box. For a more eco-friendly version, pick up silicone dividers such as the lilac doily option shown below.

Bento dividers are a colorful way to keep foods separated.

Bento Tip 3

ONIGIRI WRAPPERS

There is nothing more pleasurable than biting into an onigiri with crunchy seaweed. In order to keep the seaweed crunchy, you’ll need to pack your onigiri in one of these wrappers, which keep the rice and seaweed apart. Imagine this cheery little face waiting to greet you at lunch!

Even a bento box can benefit from styled accessories, like this onigiri wrapper that keeps rice fresh.

Bento Tip 4

BENTO PATTIES

Bento patties are a fantastic and colorful way to keep your obento ingredients separated and fresh until you are ready to enjoy your obento.

Divide each little osozai (side dish) with a bento patty. Try mixing a variety of colors and patterns. I’ve found some in sweet patterns such as gingham, stripes, and polka dots. If you have a green osozai, such as spinach or lettuce, try using a contrasting patty for aesthetic effect. You can also find silicone versions of bento patties, which can be reused without any reheating issues.

Bento patties act as miniature plates and are can be reused.

Bento Tip 5

BENTO PICKS

Bento picks can help to arrange little items—such as a cube of cheese, a small roll of ham, a mini tomato, or a pickled vegetable—and keep them in place in your bento. They also make eating these items a lot easier. The variety of bento picks available in Tokyo is enormous, but you may also be able to find some at your local Japanese market.

Stylish picks for smaller items jam in more color without taking up space.

Bento Tip 6

SUPERMARKET OBENTO

A delicious and convenient obento is never too far away in Tokyo. Most supermarkets and convenience stores sell colorful and inexpensive obento at all hours of the day. Many department stores have a basement food level where you can find delicious obento. These are called depachika obento: depa is short for “department store,” and chika means “basement.”

It’s ridiculous just how tasty, cheap, colorful, and presumably healthy(ish) these obento are!

An obento fix can easily be granted in Tokyo, where supermarkets and convenience stores offer them at all hours.

Bento Tip 7

OBENTO FUROSHIKI

Furoshiki are cloths used to wrap many objects, particularly obento. They are such a pretty way to transport your lunch, and provide a lovely little impromptu tablecloth, too. There are many types of furoshiki and various ways of wrapping them. In true Japanese style, there is an entire art to furoshiki wrapping, and you can find many tutorials on the Internet.

Furoshiki wrapping cloths is another accessory to add more style and function to your meal.

Hello Tokyo is officially available on March 28.

Hello Tokyo is your guide to this spirited lifestyle.

03/15/2017

Homemade Snow Cones

When life gives you snow make snow cones. Such is the motto I practiced when you experience the arrival of crocuses one week and then faced with a record blizzard the following. With only so many sled runs and ice forts to create when school is cancelled, we used our snow for an alternative kind of treat.

Turn snow into a delicacy with hand made snow cones.

What you’ll need:

Fresh snow

Vitamin Water (any flavored powder or liquid drink works)

Gummy vitamins

Cupcake holder

Directions:

Scoop a ball of snow into a cupcake cup holder. Add flavored water. Garnish with a gummy bear. Enjoy.

01/13/2017

Classroom Friendly Blueberry Muffins

I’ve been assigned the role of Mystery Reader in Luc’s class. One of those parental duties when reading The Day the Crayons Quit with verve is simply not enough to engage your young audience. They want treats and sugar free lollipops aren’t enough. (Too trite and sticky). While other sweets could warrant a flurry of emails from parents on responsible snacks along with their child’s nutritional requirements if a future feeding should arise. I settled on gluten, dairy and peanut free muffins.

Fresh blueberries add natural flavor to a recipe.

In the thick of winter blueberries are thriving somewhere (Peru) and the taste of summer is missed (January in Connecticut).

Mini muffins is a healthy alternative over candy and cookies.

Following the mix’s directions–supplementing with fresh berries and almond milk–allows me to serve something homemade, not ripped from loud packaging, and requires minimal effort.

Gluten Free Blueberry Muffins

(Courtesy of Authentic Foods)

Ingredients:

1 package Authentic Foods Blueberry Muffin Mix

2 large eggs

1/4 cup vegetable oil

1 cup milk, non-dairy substitute or buttermilk

1/4 teaspoon cinnamon (optional)

1/2 cup fresh blueberries (optional)

Directions:

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.  Grease the bottom of 12 regular size muffin cups or 24 mini size muffin cups or place cupcake liners inside the muffin cups.

Beat the eggs, vegetable oil and milk (or non-dairy substitute or buttermilk) in a large bowl until very bubbly.

Stir in the Authentic Foods Blueberry Muffin Mix and cinnamon. Stir until the flour is moistened and the batter is slightly lumpy.  Using a tablespoon or medium sized ice cream scooper, spoon the batter into the muffin cups.

Bake 20 to 25 minutes or until the muffin top bounces up when touched (the muffin is not ready if it sinks down when you touch it).

Remove muffins from muffin cups and cool for 10 to 15 minutes.

Resources:
Ceramic berry basket: https://www.katom.com
Tea towel: https://pomegranateinc.com/

Bite sized treat that goes well with story time.

 

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12/27/2016

No Fuss Winter Gathering

After the holidays there is a tendency to hibernate until the appearance of crocuses lure us from our winter repose. Look to the cooler months as a time to celebrate simply and regularly, such as a light afternoon tea without the stuffy customs.

Find a look by connecting color and motifs.

A palette of frosted blue, silver and neutrals bring in light and awaken the senses. Pull in a theme, such as pears and colorful baker’s twine, then add delicate touches to finish the look.

3 steps to a simple winter gathering:

  1. Choose pieces with Gustavian colors to compose a wintry scene that warms the spirit.
  2. Serve elegant chocolates and a baker’s mix of cookies that complement the setting. Green tea is a warm, healthy beverage that follows the scheme.
  3. Set with a variety of heights with pedestal plates and a mix of pieces to fill out the vignette. Even children’s dishes and books liven up the table.