Monday, May 28, 2012

Memorial Day

Memorial Day is a day set aside to remember those who have died while serving in the United States Armed Forces. 

Take a minute to remember.......

Happy Memorial Day!

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Farm fresh...

One of my best friends sent me a text this afternoon.  And, then an e-mail.  Hmmmm... what is she up to on this Memorial Day weekend????

Well... she is in the process of purchasing this charming home that is photographed above.  This little southern beauty is about 145 years old, has a gold fish pond in the back yard, and enough character for half-a-dozen homes.  And, she asked for my help making it look like something out of the pages of Southern Living. 

Absolutely.  When do we start????  It IS always more fun to spend someone else's money.  {Giggle}

OK, down to business. 

The home is probably best described as a farmhouse.  And, that can be a good thing or a bad thing.  When done well, they are spectacular.  When done poorly... well... they are AWFUL!

Why?  The problem is that people take the design too literally.  Living in a farmhouse doesn't mean that you need to buy gobs of gingham.  Just say, NO. 

Looking to others for inspiration is never a bad thing.  Fortunately, a couple of years ago on HGTV, Sarah Richardson and her side kick, Tommy Smythe, rehabilitated a farmhouse in Canada.  It wasn't cheap but... wow!  The end result was impressive -- giving homage to "farm life" without being totally predictable.  Maybe we can borrow a few ideas. 

Sarah Richardson and her family in the foyer of her farmhouse.

The closets with the red doors were added to the space for storage.  Then, Sarah and Tommy found that great chest to use between them.  While this room is undoubtedly country, the rest of the house has a more urbane feel.

This living room IS amazing... I love almost everything about it! 

Who says that you can't have grass cloth wallpaper in a farmhouse?  It looks fantastic.

Industrial appliances, marble countertops, and a yellow island.   The room certainly doesn't scream farmhouse....

The polka dot vinyl on the chairs was chosen to be kid proof, and the stairs were painted to help the kids learn to count.  Why not?

The wallpaper, above that massive amount of bead board, is a pheasant mofit... and a great little touch of color in the dining room.  And, those antique corbels are a clever way to help define the space. 

Not exactly what you would expect in a farmhouse bedroom.  That's why it is perfect.

The yellow claw foot tub and yellow curtains are certainly cheerful.  Yellow... but cheerful. 

Quilts and carpets are a great way to "remember" the history of the home without being too stuffy... especially if you include a crazy red lacquered chair. 

That is a big a$$ headboard.  The design of it is fun... but, I'm not so sure that I would have picked those colors.

The master bedroom is one of my favorite spaces.  Green tufted loveseat, orange lamps, yellow pillows, oriental rug, great curtains, and that amazing four-poster bed.  Two thumbs up!

Hopefully, this will give us some ideas. 

I'm so excited for my friend and her new purchase.   And, I'm excited that I get to help!

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Dietary dilemma

A couple of years ago, I remember watching Suze Orman tell Americans that they needed to get their heads out of the sand.  She said that most of us deceive ourselves about our actual debt.  During that discussion, she was encouraging people to take charge of their money and their lives. 

Following that philosophy.... guess who decided to get on the bathroom scales over the weekend?   Oh, God.  What was I thinking?  Ignorance WAS bliss. 

Hmmmph.  {Insert appropriate curse word.}

Yes, I'm a stress snacker.  And, good food decisions are not my strong suit when tired and overworked.  But, dammit... Have I really gained 12 lbs since being in Europe last May?????

Guess that I was trying to color coordinate my scarf with the flowers in Paris.  May 2011.

Ok, there were a few options.  Bitch about it.  Get my jaws wired together and superglue my mouth shut.  Or.... get off of my fat a$$ and do something.

In attempts to be proactive (no.... not the acne medicine), I decided to keep a food diary.  But not the normal food diary; rather, food photographs.  Forget counting those pesky Weight Watchers points.  I wanted to SEE what I had eaten and then make an informed decision about my next meal!


Well, I'm a bit tired of diet food looking like the dog's breakfast.  Many times, when people are trying to watch their calorie intake, the food looks like something fit for a rabbit.  I'm a grown man and like to eat; as a result, there is absolutely NO way that I'm going to drink protein shakes for meal replacement.... and most of them are absolutely awful.   And, if I'm drinking dinner, it is going to be bourbon.  Just sayin'! 

This is what I decided:
1.  Since we eat with our eyes first, the food needs to be placed on a plate.  No cardboard boxes, here.  And, when appropriate, make it as aesthetically pleasing as possible.  These efforts should take minimal time and effort (less than a minute or two).
2.  When getting take out, make good decisions.  High protein, high fiber, and low fat.  Sorry fast food industry.
3.  This dietary modification will not contain cottage cheese, iceberg lettuce, or anything that resembles tree bark. 
4.  Alcohol will be kept to a minimum.  Hard work doesn't "entitle" me to drink a bottle of wine on a random Tuesday night.  Grumble.
5.  Decisions must be sensible, but no foods are completely off limits.  A feeling of being "deprived" doesn't work well for my dietary headspace.  Ergo, if french fries are calling my name for lunch, then tofu may be the consequence at dinner.  You get the idea. 
6.  Eat the rainbow.   Foods need to be brightly COLORED -- not beige and fried.  Attempts will be made to eat something everyday that is:  red, orange, yellow, green, blue or purple, white, black, and pink.  And, NO...white doesn't refer to bread or sugar. 

One final clarification.  Since my tendency is to fall of the caloric modification wagon, I decided:  If and when that happens, then just hop back on and start again!  Don't make it a capital offence; just get over it and re-focus. 
That "Caution" sign on the wagon seemed rather poetic.

Here is a sample of my diet during the past wk... photos were taken with my phone on either the kitchen or dining room table.  Some days I managed to set the table; other days, not so much.  Many times, the food was purchased, and I assembled it onto the plate.  Fresh fruit, fresh veggies, lean meats and protein, and lots of herbs and spices.  Nothing fancy or exciting; just a few ideas to ponder.

 Wheat toast with peanut butter... dried cherries and golden raisins; banana, honey, and salted almonds.  I never claimed that my "diet" was glamorous!  Ha

 Steel cut oatmeal with currants, sauteed banana with cinnamon, and pecans.  This IS one of my favorite weekend foods... the idea was stolen from the Corner Cafe in Chicago.

 Greek yogurt with granola, honey, and blueberries... it does look a bit like tree bark.  Fortunately, it tasted better!

 Vegetarian chili with cilantro and red onions; corn muffin... all straight from the grocery store deli.

 Low sodium canned chicken soup with edamame and spinach; side salad.  Sometimes, my inner Sandra Lee comes out... I'm in semi-homemade hell. 

 Chicken stuffed with sundried tomatoes, broccoli and almonds, steamed veggies, and curried couscous with cranberries

 Lemon pepper salmon and mache salad

 Notice a few repeat items.  Yep... left overs.  Grilled salmon salad.  Left overs might as well look good. 

 Jack Daniels and diet coke for dinner... I never claimed to be perfect.  Someone call the wagon... lol

Chicken and black bean veggie salad with lime/BBQ vinagrette and roasted butternut squash

Since starting this insanity last Friday, I've lost 5 lbs and don't feel deprived.  Will keep you informed of the progress. 

Time for a snack! 

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

"I see dead people"

Cemetary in Bath, NC

Ok, I know, this is NOT a warm and fuzzy discussion for a Tuesday afternoon.  But, a co-worker’s grandmother died, unexpectedly, last night!  Oh, crap…. What to do?

Hmmm.  I could cook something.  This IS the south.... we cook for everything!  But... for some odd reason, I don't really think, "What's for dinner?" while attending a funeral ceremony. That has always struck me as a rather strange tradition. 

So, let's stick with the basics:  Always send flowers!  Find a good florist and send flowers.  No exceptions… I don’t care if they’ve said:  “In lieu of flowers donate money to the deceased Pilgrims of Plymouth County.”  Send flowers.   My obituary will say, “In addition to flowers, please contribute to the travel expenses of the New Orleans jazz band and the two gospel choirs."  HA.   Might as well have a party. 

Unfortunately, flowers die.

So, for momentous occasions -- good and bad -- I stand by the guidelines:  Choose gifts which are memorable, virtually indestructible, and timeless.

Example:  For baby showers, I almost always give a silver baby rattle.  They are not terribly expensive and when the kid goes off to school, the verklempt parents will look back at that tarnished rattle... cry... and remember your thoughtfulness. 
Silver rattle, Tiffany & Co. 

Funerals, however, are another beast, entirely.  With so many people in the economic crapper these days, the first thing that I ask is:  “Did they have burial insurance?   Can the family afford to bury or cremate their loved one????”   If the answer is no, then give cash.  End of story!

If all the affairs are in order, then the perfect memorial becomes a tad more difficult. 

Here are my suggestions:
1.      Pick something that is relatively indestructible, and something that will age well.  This is NOT the time for trendy!  Silver and silver-plate are great choices. 
Orchid in silver plate bowl

2.     Choose a gift that allows the family to remember their loved one.  For instance, if they loved home movies, then vintage film reels could be nice.  If they loved cooking, then an antique cast iron pan would be appropriate. If they loved gardening, then antique gardening tools might be a good choice.  But, I would probably stay away from vintage shovels.... probably not the best idea with that "six-feet under" thing looming in the near future. 

3.     But, what if you don’t know $hit about the newly deceased?    Here are a few of my last minute gifts/memorial ideas:
  • Donation to charity
  • A favorite book or religious text
  • Crystal vase
  • Photo frame
  • Box

In my experience, the box idea (like the one from Plantation above), usually works well.  It also provides a place to stash alcohol for the family... for medicinal purposes, of course. 

Not a fun topic, but a necessary discussion. 
Gina’s grandmother… Rest in Peace! 

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Conspicuous consumption

Ok, I'm on call this weekend which always puts me in a foul-a$$ mood.  So, please forgive the editorial.  

The pursuit of "one-upmanship" always amuses me.   Even though, it can sometimes be a little ridiculous.

Some folks live flashy lifestyles.  Ok, I get it!  But, just because you have some cash, does that mean that you should necessarily display it????

This morning in the New York Times, one of the articles provided an excerpt from a real estate blog discussing the $90+ million apartment which recently sold in a building under construction.  The skyscraper, One57, now holds the record for the most expensive apartment ever sold in Manhattan.  The 11,000 sq ft abode was sold for approximately $13,000 per sq foot.  The views ARE spectacular... as well they should be for THAT ridiculous price. 

Artist rendering, 157 West 57th Street
View from the Penthouse, One57

But, does anyone really NEED to spend $90 million on a home? 
In 1899, Thorsten Veblen coined the term "conspicuous consumption" in the book The Theory of Leisure.  Paraphrased, the term refers to the acquisition of goods beyond what one needs for sustenance for the purpose of show and status. 

Personally, I have much more respect for those who spend their money on things that they love but don't conspicuously display it.  A great example:  Years ago, I ran into Sam Walton in Wal-Mart.  He was in Durham, NC -- dressed like a farmer -- and he certainly did NOT look like a billionaire.  In fact, I thought that he was a homeless man looking for some spare change for the vending machine... until I saw his security detail and was eventually introduced.

Perhaps, Mr. Wal-Mart was an extreme example in the wrong direction.  There is nothing wrong with being proud of your accomplishments.  Perhaps, it is the "bragging" aspect that irks me.

And, it's NOT just an American phenomenon.  In the current issue of Vanity Fair, the world's most expensive home, Antila, is featured.  This monster is 27 stories tall, located in Mumbai, India, and has underground parking for 160 cars.  It was constructed for the bargain basement price of.... wait for it.... $1 billion.  Yes, that is billion with a B!!!!   Cha cha cha cha {choke} ching.

Sweet Jesus.  Can you imagine the cleaning staff that would be necessary to keep that place looking good???? 

Certainly, people can spend their money however they choose... but when does conspicuous consumption become a bit vulgar?

Maybe I'm just frustrated that they haven't been spending their money on BOTOX®, facial rejuvenation, and body contouring procedures in the office.  Hmmmmmm? 

Come to think about it, I know a plastic surgeon who can make house calls.... hint hint!  Could someone give these ka-jillionaires my number.  {Giggle}

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Know the rules... and know when to break them

A wonderful article, featured in the April 2012 Town & Country magazine, has been hitting the blog circuit, lately.  Event planner, David Monn, was challenged to create an amazing cocktail party... on a budget.  While he is well known for his lavish spreads, budgets are traditionally NOT his forté.  But, giving him credit where credit is certainly due, lots of catering tricks were used.  Though all of the food was purchased at Costco, the presentation was so beautiful that it could easily have come from Michelin 5 star restaurant.  The stunning results were at a cost of approximately $10/person. 

Job well done.  Or was it?

The accolades, kudos, and high-fives from the "Costco Challenge" acknowledge that a cocktail party CAN be on a budget and still be fabulous.  However... and it's a big however, the $10/person price point did NOT include....drinks.  So, if you abide by the rule that the bar tab should be at least equal to, if not double, the cost of the hors d'oeuvres, this would put the bill at $20-30/person.  And, if your friends are like my friends, the liquor bill could certainly be much higher.  Yes... we all like to drink.

The reason that I mention this cost oversight in the article is fairly simple.  I love to have cocktail parties.  Though I haven't had one in a couple of months, my last little mid week soiree was attended by 30 plus people.  For a random Tuesday night cocktail party, a $600-900 tab seems a little steep!  Budget, Town & Country and Mr. Monn, my ass! 

So, that begs the question, how CAN you really thrown a great shindig without breaking the bank?

Let's go back to the Candice Olson quote which I stole as a title.  What are the rules for a cocktail party?

1.  Ask about food allergies, first!  You don't want to kill one of your guests.  Nuts, for instance, are such a common allergy these days that I usually just avoid them all together. 

2.  For most parties, five to eight different appetizers is usually sufficent.  Guests generally consume three to five pieces or servings per person. 

3.  Opposites attract....  Savory and sweet, meat-lovers and vegetarian delight, cold and hot.  Provide a diverse selection of snacks that will appeal to everyone.  As a great example, several of my friends have gluten allergies; my menu always includes gluten-free items.  Some love seafood and others hate it.  (You get the idea.)

4.  The Barefoot Contessa has a great rule... make a couple of items for your party and assemble the rest.  The idea IS hospitality.  Give up on channeling your inner Martha Stewart.  Remember, Martha has a bevy of folks at her disposal to make her look good!

5.  The menu should include.... fat, carbs, and protein. 

6.  The bar typically includes beer and wine with a selection of liquors like gin, bourbon, rum, and vodka.  Tonic, club soda, fruit juices, water, and soda are bar staples, too. 

Here are a few examples from my last cocktail party.

Hot carmelized onion and thyme dip with bacon
The second link is for a version of the recipe without bacon.  As an aside, I eliminate the mayo and add 1/2 cup cream cheese while doubling the amt of thyme that the recipes recommend. 

Smoked salmon with dill
There are several versions of this recipe which I frequently use.  It is always a crowd pleaser.

Lettuce cups with tabbouleh (and chicken and brie)
Following the Ina idea of "assembling," bib lettuce, pre-prepared tabbouleh from the grocery store, rotissery chicken and a slice of brie...fantastic and fast.  Can leave off the brie and chicken for your vegetarian friends.

Roasted shrimp with cocktail sauce

As far as 'breaking the rules,' have your guests help.  If someone offers to bring an appetizer, my response is, "Yes, of course."  My only suggestion is that they bring it on a white or clear glass serving dish to keep the color palate on the table simple. 

When time becomes an issue, assemble everything.  Who cares if you didn't cook it?

I always tell guests that the bar will be well stocked... with the BASICS.  If they want anything unusual or exotic, then they better bring it with them. 

Cocktail parties are a great way to see your friends.  I prefer to host them mid-week because it is somewhat unexpected. 

And, yes.  They most certainly CAN be done on a budget!

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Changing the perception of classical music

Carnegie Hall, NYC

On Huffington Post, today, the photographs of Nikolaj Lund are featured.   Who is he? and why? are the logical questions.  And, why should his photographs be on this rather schizophrenic blog?

Allow me to elaborate. 

I've always appreciated the ability of a photograph to relay a message.  For Nikolaj Lund... the idea is to change the perception of classical music.

Ok... I agree, classical music is as boring as grits... hence that photo of an empty Carnegie Hall.  Furthermore, I'm more of a smooth jazz boy!  But... Mr. Lund is out to change all of this.

He said, "As a classical musician, myself, I had grown very tired of the conservative and traditional perception on classical music.  Every time [that] I saw publicity on classical music... I saw the same type of photos... which, in my opinion, keeps people (who do not already know about classical music) away from the concerts. Classical music is so much more than what those photos told." {Excerpt from interview on Huffington Post.}

So, to further his cause, he chose to expose the quirkier and wilder side of some of the musicians of classical music.  The photos were shot with miminal manipulation -- no blue screens here!  And, several instruments were destroyed in the process... but all cost less than $200... no need to destroy a perfectly good Stradivarius for a photo.

And, his finished product is incredible!   

Brian Friisholm, Cellist

Regional ensemble, MidtWest, from Denmark

Henrik Larssen, Percussionist

Bjarke Mogensen, Accordeon

Toke Moeldrup, Cellist
and... yes he DID jump into the sea wearing a tuxedo with a cello

Members of the Double Bass Section, Aarhaus Symphony Orchestra

Toril Vik, Flutist

Niels-Ole Bo Johanssen, Trombone

The Danish String Quartet

Sometimes, stereotypes need to be broken! 

"Music is something you hear, feel and respond to. For me it can calm me down and at the same time wake a lot of energy and inspiration in me," Lund explained. "So the combination of aesthetic shades and raw energy is what I often try to show in my photos."

Kudos, Mr. Lund.  Job well done; you certainly captured my attention. 

Maybe this will help spread the word, too.  The first time that I saw this video, my response was, "Damn...the cello can be sexy.  Who knew?"   Recently, these two amazing cellists have been featured on the Ellen DeGeneres Show, toured Australia with Sir Elton John, and had a cameo during the Michael Jackson tribute on Glee.  Two spunky classical cellists with...attitude.

2CELLOS, Smooth Criminal, by Luka Sulic and Stjepan Hauser

Perceptions can always be changed!