Friday, March 30, 2012

Food on Friday: dinner parties

I have always been inspired by the 2006 Sofia Coppola film, Marie Antoinette.  Regardless of historical accuracy (or character development, or plot or whatever else critics say) the film is an absolute feast for the eyes.  As a lover of all things aesthetically pleasing, wistful and romantic, every scene in this movie moves me.  From the lazy garden scenes--where you can practically feel the soft breeze and warm sunshine yourself--to the lavish party scenes, everything is gorgeous, luxurious and seems to drip from your lips like honey.

While we cannot all be infamous queens from the 1700s (or spend like one), I am a firm believer that living a "Marie Antoinette" lifestyle is possible on a daily basis.  The key is to surround yourself with things you find beautiful, add small luxuries into your life and to linger in the moments that make you happy or calm.

On that note, I thought today would be a perfect day to give you a few of my favorite (affordable) tips for dinner parties that even Marie would be envious of.    After all, more than half the fun of cooking is sharing something special and delicious with the people you love.
from My Fantastically Good Life.

1.  Dim the lightening-  No one wants to sit down for a leisurely meal under the bright fluorescent lights of the kitchen.  It reminds you of being in a cafeteria and makes people feel like they have to (and want to) rush.  Use dimmers, lamps and candles to get "mood lighting." It should be light enough that everyone can see/cut their food, but dark enough that no one can see that huge, ripe pimple on your nose.  When possible, I stick to only candle and/or soft natural light (for example if the dinner is before the sun sets).

2.  Play music-  Unless your meal is outside and you are being serenaded by frogs, crickets, nightingales and Mother Nature's other music-makers, putting on a little music will help to relax your guests and set a slow and lazy tone.  Personally, I am a fan of upbeat but slow-paced music while dining.  I also tend to like instrumentals, as they give you something interesting to enjoy during lulls in the conversation, but don't compete with talking or draw too much attention to themselves.  Turn the volume down low to keep it mellow--the music should be an almost unnoticeable--yet integral--part of the "scene".  (I love Explosions in the Sky.)

3.  Set the table beautifully-  Use a table cloth and be excessive with your dishes.  I am talking chargers (if you have them), dinner plates, salad plates, water glasses and wine glasses, forks, knives, spoons, baby forks and baby spoons, cloth napkins, tiny salt and pepper shakers, things you haven't seen since you opened your weddings gifts and things you didn't know you had.  Pretend like the queen is coming, because, my friend, you are the queen and you deserve to eat like one.  Worry about the clean up later (or better yet, wrangle your boyfriend or husband into doing it for you).  No one ever looked at a picnic table full of soggy paper plates and felt fabulous.  But, using your best china and water goblets (even if your dinner party is outside) will make you feel like a million bucks.

4.  Encourage people to slow down-  Some people eat seriously quickly.  Some people have trouble sitting around a table for hours and having a nice, relaxing meal.  Encourage your guests to slow down by serving something complicated to eat or by serving separate courses (with a little time in between).  The mark of a great dinner party is two empty wine (or juice;-) bottles on the table, two hours later and people are still talking and laughing.

5. Get dressed up- Put on something that makes you feel great.  Do your hair up in something romantic and add a flower from your garden.  Feeling great about how you look when you host guests allows you to enjoy your party that much more.

6. Move it outside- If you weren't already planning on your dinner being outside and if you have the space, move it outside.  It's so much nicer to dine al fresco.

from Blooms Blog

COSTS A LITTLE (but with a big impact):

1.  Cheap champagne- Unless you are a wine snob--in which case, you probably aren't reading my blog anyway--go to the supermarket and buy the cheapest bottle of champagne, sparkling wine or prosecco you can find.  While at the supermarket, buy some fresh (or frozen, I won't tell) berries (I like raspberries).  Got them?  Good.  Proceed to serve your guests a beautiful glass of bubbly and berries when they arrive.  You sip one, too.  I am pretty sure you feel amazing now.

2. Flowers- A dinner party is not a dinner party without them.  Seriously, you need a lot.  They don't have to be expensive, you can pick a ton of dandelions and daisies from the empty lot across the street for all I care.  In fact, I am partial to messy bouquets that (look like they) are made up of flowers picked from a field.   Just fill up the table with flowers, cut short (preferably in juice glasses or jam jars) so that your guests can see over them.  Instant luxury.

3. More candles- Think you have enough candles?  Add a few more, just for good measure.  Put them in jam jars or juice glasses, too.  It's cheap, it's recycling and it's glam.  Who would have thought?

4. Have dessert- Here's the thing: most people don't let themselves have dessert on a regular basis.  And, when they do, it's often something easy and effortless like cookies from the pantry, ice cream or a popsicle.  So, give your guests a chance to indulge.  Make dessert, preferably something über chocolatey, but anything rich will do.  Then make it look pretty.  Serve and watch as people feel pampered and totally high on life.  Aren't dinner parties all about indulging anyway?


1. Throw a dinner party for just anyone.  You won't have fun.  And, then, what's the point.

2. Think a "dinner party" has to be a Dinner Party.  Seriously.  You're the queen of your life, not the president of the United States.  It should be fun and not stuck up. It's a Tuesday night?  Your boyfriend is coming home early from work?  Break out that bubbly and set the damn table already.  Anytime is a good time for a luxurious meal.

3. Get caught up in making it perfect.  Even after all my advice, ignore anything the brings more stress than pleasure.  Don't focus on any detail that doesn't have a big impact.  Are place cards, napkin rings or hand-stenciled invites going to add to the beauty of the party or change the mood?  Probably not.  Stick to worrying about more important things like looking like a Greek goddess and lighting some candles.

A little spring dinner I had with my boyfriend and best friend last year!

Well, that's about it for my guide to a everyday-luxurious dinner party.  I love slowing down, enjoying the moment and surrounding myself with beauty and hope these tips help you to do the same.  Sometimes, there is nothing more satisfying than a really long, beautifully done meal with people you love.  I hope you get to have one this weekend!

Thursday, March 29, 2012

A bird a day keeps the doctor away

by Starla Halfmann of Paint a Bird a Day.

I love, love, love birds (as you all know) and so, when I saw this website, I just had to share it with you!  I found it this morning via Pinterest and I am obsessed!  

It's called Paint a Bird a Day and it is the perfect cure for a bad mood or a gloomy day.  Starla Halfmann paints a bird everyday for 100 days and her images are truly beautiful.  The colors are so bright and cheerful.  I dream of one day owning an original piece, but until that day comes, Starla has reasonably priced prints for sale

I would love to surround myself with these beautiful images or put them in my bedroom to wake up feeling cheery every morning.  How about you? 

By Starla Halfmann of Paint a Bird a Day.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Lighten up for spring, part 2

I never would have guessed it one month ago, when the days were still cold, dark and dreary, but this March is blowing my mind.  Today was another warm, beautiful day filled with sunshine, soft breezes  and lots of little birds.  Germany, I have to say, you really are making me fall in love all over again.  

Last week, I posted a few ways to transition your home into spring.  Today, I thought I would give you a little look at how I put those tips to work in my own space.  The weather has made me go crazy for flowers and bright colors and I have spent some time in the last week and a half making adjustments.  I like my home to feel like a new place when the warmer months start to roll around.  Here's a little of what I have done.  

1) I added flowers
One of my favorite flowers are ranunculus.  They have been since I can remember.  So, when I found this great potted one at the discount market near my house--it was the perfect shade of fuchsia, one of my favorite colors lately--I didn't even look to see how much it cost.  Imagine my surprise when I got it home, looked at my grocery bill and found that it was only 1 Euro 50 cents.  What a steal!  They also had purple, red, yellow and orange ones, so I plan to go back tomorrow and buy a few more.

2) I brightened up my pillows
My big splurge while I was home were these beautiful citron pillow covers from West Elm.  I had had my eye on them for such a long time prior and I just couldn't resist.  Luckily, when I went they were on sale.  (I also got the beautiful, handmade black and while graphic cover in the middle of the couch on sale at West Elm while I was home.)  With my dark gray walls, I knew I needed a lot of color in this room for spring/summer and they brighten up the room drastically, don't you think? (Here's a picture of the couch before for comparison.)

3) I changed my accessories
It's tough to see in the pictures above, but I changed out the animal skull I had hanging above the bar, because it felt very autumny to me.  I also moved the adorable, dark brown owl candle my mom got me for Christmas.  I love them both, but I am looking for lighter colored woodsy accents this time of year.

4) I rearranged.
It's barely noticeable in the far left of this picture, but I added a bookshelf to the living room.  I love how much more it fills up the room.  This space is finally starting to feel more finished to me!

Well, I hoped you enjoyed this little house tour.  Have you lightened up for spring at all?  Is it spring where you are or is pesky winter still hanging around?  Do you have any extra tips to share with me?  I would love to hear your thoughts!

Hope everyone's having an excellent (and sunny) day!

Monday, March 26, 2012

Wochenende in der Sonne

What. a. weekend.  Let me tell you: it was perfect.  The sun was shining.  It was warm and breezy.  The birds serenaded us with their love songs.  At one point, I even fell asleep in a lounge chair while reading.  It was the perfect nap, sun-drenched and breezy.  My nose is a bit red now, but I have never been happier to be a little sun burnt.  

We ate well, had exceptional company (we were visiting Peter's family) and even made a bonfire.  And, most importantly, we here in Europe "sprang forward" on Sunday.  Now it is light until 8 p.m. every night and we are loving it!  

Welcome spring!  We missed you.


Friday, March 23, 2012

Food on Friday: super simple, healthy lunch

This is bruschetta-like, but it's not a recipe.  It's more of a suggestion really...a suggestion to eat better, a suggestion to be less lazy about food and a suggestion to absolutely try this.  

Basically, I made bruschetta for lunch yesterday and it was to. die. for.  It was super fresh, filling and, to my knowledge, healthy.  Plus, it only took about 5 minutes to make.  

My trick was that I toasted my bread--I used a whole wheat bagel because I was planning to eat a very small dinner and wanted a large, filling lunch--and then rubbed a cut garlic clove on top while the toast was still hot.  Now, I am no culinary expert so I don't know how popular this trick is, but, as a garlic-lover, it has become my new best friend.  I got the idea from Emily over at Cupcakes and Cashmere.  Smart, huh? It adds the perfect dose of mmmmmm to this easy meal.  

I am by no means a great cook, so I am not going to give you a recipe here (you should create it your way and according to your tastes) but what I am trying to impart is motivation.  This took 5 minutes to make, my friends...5 minutes for a totally fresh, veggie-packed meal.  That doesn't really leave any room for any excuses, does it?  And, I promise, I love fast food.  But, this really tasted better than fast food and left me feeling better, too.  Like I said: motivation.  

I haphazardly threw freshly diced tomato, onion and basil in a bowl and then topped it off with a bit of olive oil, salt and freshly ground pepper. But, if you need a recipe, there are about 14 million online.  I also added a bit of avocado to mine to make it a little more filling.  

Of course, if you eat lunch at work, you would want to skip the garlic toast (unless you really hate your colleagues) and take the pre-made topping in a separate container.  But, I am telling you what you already know, right?  

Guten appetit, my friends!  And have a fresh and healthy first weekend of spring!

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Thursday, March 22, 2012

Lighten up for spring

It's been a balmy (and surprising) 63 degrees here (17 degrees Celsius) the last few days and I definitely have spring fever.  I spent most of the day today arranging and rearranging my furniture and plan to spend tomorrow cleaning the house from top to bottom. 

For spring, I always change out my dark winter textiles and decor for lighter, happier and more brightly colored pillows and accessories.  This spring I am all about citron and bright pinks.  Here are a few tips for "springifying" your place (clockwise from top left):

1.  Change your pillow covers.
In the winter I use gold velvet pillow covers on my couch.  They're a little heavy, dark and stiff for the warmer months, so I recently switched them out with the citron West Elm cases above.  Any bright or happy color would work. The covers are currently on sale for $14.99-19.99 so they are a pretty inexpensive way to make a big difference. 

2.  Change out your art.
At Christmas, I put Christmas images in all of my frames.  In spring, I change out any darker, more winter-y art for bright florals or nature images.  You can find relatively inexpensive prints like this one on or you can make your own! (I like to use Graphics Fairy for making my own art...or I doodle it myself.)  

3.  Add fresh flowers. 
There is no better way to bring spring inside. (Photo courtesy of Oh Joy!)  

4.  Accessorize with a nature theme. 
I like to use hooks or glass figurines in flower, bird and animal themes.  This hook is $10 from Urban Outfitters.  Deer, rabbits, birds and other woodland creatures are great!

5.  Spice up old furniture with a punch of color.
These bright green knobs from Hobby Lobby, which I just bought while I was home in California, would give some extra cheer to dark colored furniture or add a little whimsy to a boring piece. 

Do you have any tips for sprucing up your place for spring?  I would love to hear them!  I hope everyone is enjoying the first few days of this beautiful season!!

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

California, comin' home

Oh, California!  Thanks for showing Peter and me an excellent time.  It rained just a little too much (the entire last week) but, you know...nothing we aren't used to.  

The weeks were filled with lots of love and laughter, dinners out with my parents and ball throwing for J.J.  We saw tons of good friends and thawed our hearts after a long, cold winter.  The sun was out the first week and there were a lot of walks.  Trees were flowering.  It was perfect.  

I saw my sister.  Peter ran 50k in 5 hours and 7 minutes.  We hiked almost every day.  There's no nicer vacation destination than my family's little "resort."

We are already looking forward to going back.  And, for the time being, we are enjoying the sun and beautiful weather here in Nuremberg.  Who knew it could be this nice in Germany in March?  

Here are some pictures if you are interested.  Enjoy! 

Placer county courthouse and old town Auburn.

Cute and historic Nevada City, California.  


Before the race. 
The start of Peter's 50k, The Way Too Cool.
The sister showing her support for the boyfriend.

Looking good at about 12 miles. 

Crossing the finish line. 

The runners. 

Area landscape.

The beautiful American River Canyon.  

American River Canyon....with low water.  

After a long winter or almost no rain.  

And then, after four straight days of rain.  Huge difference.  

Oh the nose.  

Peter enjoying his first ever NBA basketball game.  Too bad it was such a miserable score.  

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Gemütlichkeit is: this guy and that dinner

The love of my life, J.J.
Dinner at home with the whole fam.  

I don't think I need to say more...the picture speak for themselves. 

More about the trip (and plenty of pictures) coming tomorrow!  Hope you are having a fantastic first day of spring!