March 6, 2015

Have a Great Weekend

I think it's ironic how I can travel pretty much anywhere and still finds bits and pieces of home that follow me around. I picked up Kate yesterday for spring break, and while I was waiting for her to get out of class, I took this photo. I can't wait for spring to actually arrive and see all of the work they've done to continue the Emerald Necklace located across the street from her building.

Even though it's Kate's spring break, it's definitely not spring! We change the clocks this weekend and it will feel very strange indeed. But, we'll try to make the best of it, and like last year, the gang is planning on hitting the slopes next week, going to the movies, and generally hanging out. I think we'll spend a relatively quiet weekend at home so she can relax a bit first.

I hope you have something fun planned. Here are some links I thought you might enjoy...

While I was waiting in the car to pick her up yesterday, I watched this funny video. And Kate told me about this one she watched last week.

Join Emma Watson for International Women's Day this Sunday, March 8th at 1:00 PM EDT. (Click on the first video.)

Small space decorating at its best.

The girls love posting videos about dogs and animals in general. If we could, we would become a very large animal foster family. Check out his new friend and these puppies taking a bath. And watch this inspired video... which has nothing to do with animals.

Do you plan to see the live version of Cinderella? It opens March 13th.

Did you know you can distress paint with Vaseline? I didn't either.

Enjoy!

March 5, 2015

Design Inspiration: Art & Accessories

My favorite part of the decorating process has always been accessorizing. There is no quicker way to change the mood of the room and give it lots of personality. I recently taught a how-to accessorize webinar and I was reminded of just how much I missed my life as a merchandiser in Boston....working with the details of a room always makes me happy. I chose these two pictures because I'm constantly being asked about artwhere and how to hang it, what works and what doesn't, and how it all fits into the decorating process.

To me, anything that can be hung on a wall (safely) is art. You can choose more conventional styles that lay flat against the wall or something more dimensional like a basket or a shadow box. Art can be chosen to inspire the entire room....the colors and patterns alone open up all sorts of possibilities.

For those of you who love symmetry, but still want a stylish room, choose something similar to what you see above. These watercolors add color and movement and are so simple to recreate. Notice the other. Symmetry is repeated again in the furniture grouping with just a little asymmetry thrown in for good measure. Art should connect to the furnishings, so consider tucking it in a bit closer to the furniture. (Learn how to make that fabulous zebra rug here.)

This dreamy impressionist painting (Think Monet), by artist Dean Dass, is an explosion of calming color. The accessories chosen to enhance the painting complement those colors and enhance the tranquil setting of this living room. When you really want to make things pop, pull out the least dominant colorin this case, aquaand use that color in your accessories or textiles.

So the next time you're faced with a decorating dilemma, look to your art to guide you. The colors, patterns, lines, and textures are just waiting to tell their story.

More to come...

Photos: homedepot.com and Lonny.com

March 4, 2015

I Love Pasta!

The other night, I made a big heaping pot of pasta and then smothered it in spicy roasted red pepper and tomato meat sauce. And I had bread, too.

I didn't eat a lot of pasta growing up. Dad was a meat and potatoes kind of guy, so that's what Mom cooked. I can still remember eating my first plate of Spaghetti alle Vongole (with clams) at Cantina Italiana in the North End. To. Die. For. I think I may have even licked the plate it was so good.

However, during my year-of-better-health, pasta had to step aside so I could get a handle on my diet. I didn't miss it at all at first because I was experiencing new tastes and foods. And as my health improved and I felt I could start to introduce some of my favorites back into the mix, I piled on the pasta. Just in smaller piles.

I'm a big believer in eating foods they way they were intended. If you're going to eat sugar, eat sugar, not a sugar substitute. Foods in their purist form are, to me, the healthiest way to eat. Just cut back on the not-so-healthy stuff and you'll be okay. However, I backed off this theory just a bit when I started to drink decaffeinated coffee. I swore I never would, but I do indulge in (maybe) a cup of it a week because I love the taste. I will treat myself to a decaf vanilla latte from Starbucks once in a while (quite a few times last month), but I'm still very aware of how much and when....no so-called decaffeinated coffees or teas past 3:00 in the afternoon and certainly not every day.

So when I indulge in a food, or a drink, I eat/drink the real thing (usually, as I just confessed about decaf). But what about pasta? Does wheat, gluten-free, fiber-enriched, rice, or any other kind still taste good? Is it really necessary to cut it out entirely? Do you have to treat pasta like any other carb? And if so, there's a whole lot of people in Italy who might have a say in the matter.

So here's to pastain any way, shape, or form.

Spaghetti alle Vongole
Gluten-Free Gnocchi with Sausage Ragu
Pasta with Tomato Cream Sauce
Linguini with Pancetta and Sun-Dried Tomatoes

Spaghetti with Fresh Tomatoes

1 box of pasta. I prefer to use thin spaghetti for this light dish.
3-4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 clove garlic, minced
1 pint cherry tomatoes
1 bunch fresh basil leaves
Salt to taste

Cook pasta al dente and set aside. (Add a pinch of salt to the water after bringing it to a rapid boil.)

Add olive oil to a sauté pan over medium heat and then add the tomatoes. Toss them around the pan a bit with a pinch of salt and cook until the tomatoes soften and start to crack, approximately 5 minutes.

Add garlic and cook for one minute. Be careful not to brown the garlic. Toss again and then add pasta to the pan. Once it's all mixed together, toss in a several basil leaves, cut thin (chiffonade: roll basil leaves together and slice; you'll be left with long, think strips) and leave the rest for garnish.

Enjoy!

Photo: Gwendolyn Richards

March 3, 2015

Spotted: Writer Essentials from Appointed

I love notebooks! I mean, I really, really love them. I can't help but buy a stylish, new notebook any time I come across one. So when I was poking around the internet, I found this company, Appointed, and I was hooked. The design looks beautifulstylish, yet refined....elegant, yet simple. They're launching their project through Kickstarter today, and I encourage you to check out their video. This American-made product, by graphic designer Suann Song, is one I'm looking forward to working with. After all, who wouldn't want "beautiful tools to inspire beautiful work".

Suspended in Air (1000 Words)

The act of writing continues to confuse and amaze me. Just as I was getting out of my own way, I hit a big roadblock. Not writer's block, mind you, but a dilemma that had my fingers suspended in air, unclear of what key I needed to hit next. Sometimes when you work on a project, the project leads you to places you never dreamed of visiting, and other times you end up leading the project in a direction you didn't intend.

When Kate was home a few weekends ago, I talked with her at great length about my books and ideas. At first, she was accommodating and polite, but then she got excited. Which got me excited. I started writing a book back in 2009(!) that I've had sitting in my desk and on my computer just waiting for me to hit the delete button. Since starting my 1000 Words project, I've kept up with my end of the bargain, to a point. I collected all of my written essays and made notes of new essays for project #2 (non-fiction), filed them away and felt pretty good about my progress. Then I came back to project #1 (fiction) and it felt very....forced.

I decided I needed a little perspective, which is where Kate came in. I started to explain the new book to her and then she asked about the one I had started years ago. I told her I had abandoned that idea. She didn't say much at first, but then she asked me why. After explaining the situation, she convinced me that my original book had to be written.

I am now switching it up and returning to the book I started so long ago and tabling my new one. She made me see that the story needed to be told and that the reason I wasn't making any real progress on the new one was because my heart just wasn't in it. She further made me understand that I wouldn't have to throw it all out and start over. My beginning is now going to end up somewhere in the middle. That revelation was so freeing.

It amazed me how quickly talking through the project made me see things in a new way. I was able understand why I stuffed this story in a drawer to begin with and why now was the time to dust it off and continue to move forward.

A writer is faced with a lot of self-doubt. And although writing is essentially a one-person act, the process must be shared. It doesn't matter if you talk about writing in general, about a specific project, or share pages of your story or article, you must put it out there and let it be judged.

I encourage all writers to find a support system that works for you, whether you join a writers' group in person or online, or trust in your peoplethe ones who understand you and what you're trying to achieve.

"Don't write your book in seclusion--get a community to support you--a writing buddy, an online class, workshop, or a coach can keep you accountable, confident and supportive." - Lisa Tener

This is why I started this series to begin withto hold myself accountable to someone other than myself. Those 1000 words are a goal, not a barrier, and they're not there to make me feel less competent, lazy, or like a failure. They're simply a measuring stick; an imaginary boss looming over my shoulder to make sure I'm doing my work.

If you're having trouble with your writing, read Lisa's article to be inspired.

Photo credit: My office/den where I do most of my writing and a favorite spot to read taken by Katie Merritt

March 2, 2015

10 Things to do in March

It may be snowing outside my window right now, but spring is on its way! March is a tricky month, especially here in New England, but if I can brave another week of cold, snowy weather, we all can. Cooper and Dante enjoyed a nice swim at the park last spring. Here's hoping the snow melts away before the end of April! And here are some ideas to help you get a jumpstart on spring.

1. Get outside! I know it sounds easy, but with all of the snow and cold we've had this winter, it's easier to cuddle up indoors to stay warm. However, your house has been shut away and it's important (especially before allergy season) to breathe in fresh, clean air. That said, open up the windows as soon as you can. Even on a warm 40+ degree winter day, it's good to air out the house. It also helps to dry things out while you're cleaning up. (See #2.)

2. Clean up. If you got a jump on your spring cleaning last month, now is the time to actually clean rather that purge and organize. I just cleaned out my fridge from top to bottom, wiped down the tops of upper cabinets, and now I'm getting ready to tackle dust from all of those hidden places. Our furniture has been locked down too, so it's a good idea to clean upholstery and carpeting. One thing I will note, if you have allergies, specifically mold or dust allergies, take caution. Wear a mask when dusting and opt for dry clean methods instead of wet where more mold and dust can grow. (Check out this ultimate spring cleaning guide.)

3. Rearrange the furniture. You don't have to spend money to redecorate your home, all you need is a little time and muscle. Move the sofa to take in a view, or spread out your seating arrangement or create a new one. Remove heavy drapes, blankets, and miscellaneous clutter. Consider redecorating your mantel or sideboard with fresh colors and materials. Start small and then dream and plan for future updates. Be inspired by these two posts: One-Day Makeover and Makeover Now and Later.

4. Indulge in a fresh bouquet of flowers. An $8 bunch of tulips will lighten your mood and infuse a little color into your home. Have you seen the $10 bouquets they offer at Whole Foods? I absolutely love them. You can tuck them just about anywhere and they last at least a week if not longer. You can see one of them on Kate's bedside table in this post.

5. Celebrate the little things. March is a very looong month. We just found out that Amanda's school is taking away a 4-day weekend (March is the only month without a scheduled day off) because of snow days, which means she has 7 long weeks to wait before her next break. So it's really important that I/we try and make the best of it by celebrating melting snow (fingers crossed), picking up her fitted prom dress, and St. Patrick's Day. Even if you're not Irish, it's okay to celebrate any way you'd like. Go all out and put together a themed dinner party, make a pot of Irish Beef Stew, or dress in your favorite shade of green.

6. Get moving. I'll be the first to admit that I have gotten way off track when it comes to exercising. And although I tend to slow down during the winter months, I don't usually take extended breaks or stop entirely. I want to be able to get on my bike as soon as the removal of snow and ice will widen the roads, so it's back to basics for me. Amanda has graciously lent me her stationary bike and it's been kicking my butt. I'm starting out slowly so I don't injure myself. (I'm still nursing a sore hip and now a rotator cuff issue from shoveling heavy snow!). It doesn't matter where you arebeginner or expert, or how far we've comewe all have to go back to the basics from time and time and never give up.

7. Extend your wardrobe. It's okay to go for a layered look as the seasons change, in fact, it's the best way to stretch your wardrobe without having to buy anything new. Jeans can be worn all year long and so can blouses. Just pair them with a cardigan or vest, layer blouses over a T, or add a warm scarf to see you through. You can wear lighter weight sweaters all year long and pare shorts with tights if that's the look you're going for. Warm up this winter to spring look with stockings (or leather boots) and a pretty scarf and/or light jacket and you'll get by just fine once the mercury has risen above freezing.

8. Start gardening. The earth certainly isn't ready for planting just yet, but that doesn't mean you can't start seedlings indoors. If you're not much of a gardener, I highly recommend planting herbs. Take it from someone who has killed more plants than I care to admit, herbs are (almost) bullet proof. And you can keep them indoors all year round if you prefer.

9. Plan your summer or vacation reading list now. I know some of you have already taken a holiday to a warm climate by this time, but for those of you who still plan to get away once the weather cooperates, it's time to shop. The girls and I have decided to theme our reading this summer. That's the plan right now, but I'm sure we'll throw in a few surprises. Check out Good Reads, the New York Times best sellers list, or check out these Pinterest boards to inspire you.

10. Go fly a kite. I'm back to 'get outside'! Kite flying has never been one of my favorite things to do, but I wouldn't mind watching someone else fly one as I was walking or biking on by. I think of them as little beacons of hope....yes, spring is here. Spring is here!

Thank you for reading this series, 10 Things to do in... . In case you missed any, here they are.

April
May
June
July
August
September
October
November
December
January
February

February 27, 2015

Have a Wonderful Weekend

Are you tired of seeing pictures of snow? Yeah, me too. If you can believe it, I took this picture over a week ago and we have since received a foot and a half more. Add to that -24 degree wind chills and that about sums up our winter. But...we did have a bit of melting for the first time in over a month, so I'm thinking positive. Unfortunately, roofs all over New England are starting to sag, collapse, and leak. I came home last week after class to find that my kitchen ceiling has a few new decorationsbrown stains in an assortment of shapes. There was only one other winter where we've had roof damage, this is the second. C'est la vie.

Amanda has been on her winter break this past week. We went prom dress shopping and she picked out a beautiful plum ball gown. Be sure to look for those pictures in May. As for this weekend... I think we're just planning on taking it as it comes. I hope you have an enjoyable weekend and here are some links you might find interesting.

Think I'm kidding about the cold and snow... well, the ocean is starting to freeze.

Downton Abbey meets Harry Potter.

Great quotes about writing and little free libraries everywhere. Oh, and advice about writing from Stephen King.

Are you ready for a new haircut?

Gorgeous log cabin makeover.

Take a breather and check out this place where you can work, relax, or meet. Use code JRTFQX for a free hour.

Try this 4 ingredient chicken marinade. Yum!

xo

Photo taken from my kitchen window.

February 26, 2015

Small Space Decorating: The Kitchen

With two children currently living in apartments, I know a little bit about making the most of small spaces. Kate's kitchen barely allows two people to occupy the room at the same time just like this one. So what do you do in tight spaces? Think up. And take advantage of wall space. Here are a few tips...
  • Use baskets and shelving above cabinets and the refrigerator. Three wine holders are used to support a painted board for instant and inspired storage. Keep a step stool close by to retrieve things on a daily basis.
  • Install wire baskets underneath cabinets to keep counter clutter to a minimum.
  • Hang cutting boards, a collage of dishes, additional baskets, or a few colorful colanders on the wall for easy access and to add dimension and style to your walls.
  • Art can be propped against a backsplash instead of on the walls to add character to your space.
  • Keep the colors to a minimum. Shades of white, gray, and black work well here. My daughter's kitchen is mostly red and brown, but still works.
  • Double duty. Use pitchers to hold utensils like wooden spoons (I use a marble wine cooler). Unexpected touches add personality.
  • Get creative with storage. Instead of taking up drawer space, house trash bags underneath the sink. You can even hang plastic baskets to hold sponges and brushes. Use larger bins for tinfoil and plastic wrap.
  • Use organizers inside cabinets to maximize space. Wire shelving will help separate dishes from mixing bowls and baking goods from spices.
  • Take advantage of cabinets doors. Create your own message center with cork tiles or chalk paint or simply use the inside of the door to hang smaller items. Add hooks to hang rubber gloves and dish towels.
  • Take advantage of small spaces. You need just inches between cabinets and windows to create glass ledges.

February 25, 2015

Roast Beef

It occurred to me the other day that I hadn't cooked a roast beef dinner since we started eating organic. I don't buy beef very often to begin with and all they ever have in the meat case is pot roast....and I'm not a fan of pot roast. So I asked the butcher if they had any roast beef, which was a silly question, really, and of course they did. Which cut would I like? Well... as crazy as this may sound, I used to just purchase the roast at the grocery storeby shape. I had no idea what cut I was buying. My butcher took pity on me and started to edify me on all things beef. I left with a 4lb. top round roast, all tied up like a package. And on Sunday, we had an old-fashioned Sunday dinner at 2:00 in the afternoon.

Roast Beef

3-4lb. top round roast, tied
1 bulb of garlic
2 1 quart containers of beef broth (I use Pacific brand organic)
salt and freshly ground pepper (optional) to taste

Pre-heat your oven to 375 degrees while you prepare the beef. (I use the roast setting on my convection oven.)

Peel an entire bulb of garlic and set aside. Cut deep slits into the roast and insert a piece of garlic into each slit. I use the whole bulb, you may choose to use less.

Place the roast in the roasting pan and pour 1-2 cups of beef broth over and around the beef. Sprinkle the beef liberally with salt. You may also decide to add a bit of freshly ground pepper, but I use just salt.

Roast for approximately 60 minutes (20 minutes per pound).

*Make sure you peek in on your roast and add more beef broth if necessary as this becomes part of your stock for the gravy.

When done, loosely wrap beef in aluminum foil and let rest for 15-20 minutes. When ready, remove beef from foil and slice into pieces. You can choose to keep the garlic in the roast or remove entirely.
Once the beef is sliced, place it on a platter, add the garlic as a garnish, and pour any juices from the foil over the beef to keep moist.

Note: I have used ready minced garlic (with juice) spread on top of beef as well as herbs, like thyme and rosemary. You can certainly do this instead. Choose fresh herbs if possible and sprinkle liberally all over.

Beef Gravy

1 quart beef broth (see above)
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1 1/2 teaspoons onion salt
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons olive oil or butter (optional)

Heat 1 quart of beef broth in a sauce pan. Bring to a slight boil and reduce heat by half. Add seasonings and taste. I like my gravy on the salty side so you may wish to add a bit more or a bit less.

To thicken the gravy, you can either add a roux (flour and oil or butter) or mix flour and water together and combine with the broth. The idea is NOT to create any lumps. Try option 1 or 2 below.

1.  Heat the oil or butter in a pan and whisk in flour until smooth. Because you're working with a lean piece of meat and you're not working with the stock (which would contain fat and the need to use either oil or butter), it's a good idea to add fat. Slowly pour the seasoned broth over the roux and whisk constantly until smooth.

2.  Combine flour with enough warm water to create a paste. Make sure there are no lumps. Reduce seasoned broth to a simmer and slowly add flour mixture a little at a time into the pan whisking constantly until smooth.

Add any dripping from the pan into the gravy and stir.

Serve with mashed potatoes, green beans, roasted asparagus, or steamed broccoli. Serves 4-6 people.

Enjoy!