living

Watercolor calligraphy placecards? Of course.

When my friend Michelle started planning a celebration for her law school dinner, she wanted a big crowd for dinner with zero chaos. She had seen the invitations I made for Sammi and Tony’s engagement party, and asked if I could lend a crafty hand for her dinner.

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We decided on a watercolory aesthetic in shades of blue and teal – playing off of the venerable D.C. restaurant Oyamel’s bright, playful decor.

Inspired by a DIY from Paper & Stitch, I dip-dyed sturdy cardstock squares in a custom blend of watercolor inks (Cobalt Turquoise and Cerulean Blue) from Blick Art Supplies. 

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I wanted the cards to have a faint ombre look, so I mixed two bowls – one of just Cerulean, and one with a 2:1 ratio of Turquoise and Cerulean. I kept the mixes fairly concentrated, and used wide bowls so I’d have an easy(ish) time dipping the paper. I’d recommend testing on scrap paper as you go to ensure that you are getting the right hue and intensity. Also remember that colors dry a little brighter than when they’re wet!

First, I dipped the card two thirds of the way (or maybe three quarters for some!) in the lighter Cerulean bowl. Dip, dip, and dry the edges, then on to the brighter mixed bowl, where I dipped maybe up to halfway of what was already dyed. I played around with angles here – have fun with it!

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Make sure to tap the edges on paper towels before laying them out to dry. After tapping the edges and removing any water bubbles, I laid the cards out on rows of paper towels. Once finished, I covered them with paper towels and a few heavy books, per Paper & Stitch’s recommendation. This is an essential step to making sure the wet cards dry flat and neat! NOTE — if your paper towels have patterns….. you will see those in the finished product. I’d recommend using unpatterned paper towels or even cheesecloth if this will be an issue for you!

I let the cards dry a full day before adding calligraphy. I used a wide nib that gives a playful thick-and-thin stroke, and got to it!

How to Design a Plate Gallery Wall

I’ve been a fan of plate walls ever since I was a kid, wandering through my  grandparents’ house admiring all the cool, colorful, artistic plates they have hung as wall decor throughout their home. Different shapes and sizes, all china blue patterns and illustrations, hung nearly from floor to ceiling on one very tall wall.

I like the chic aesthetic of plates on a wall. To me it feels like the perfect balance between old world city elegance and modern style. Or maybe that’s just my grandma talking.

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I found two fun plates a few years ago at Anthropologie and they’d hung once in my first apartment, but the two of them were a little lonely on their own. I’ve been slowly amassing plates: trying to follow my grandmother’s guiding principles of same colors, different shapes, but putting my own taste in the designs: a little more abstract and artsy, fewer people and more words.

I also found some amazing plate hangers at the Container Store. These sticky circles adhere to the back of your plate with a little  metal circle to hang,  so that you don’t have any hanging wires peeking over the edges of the plate. First you wet the adhesive circle, then after a few minutes of letting it absorb water, you press firmly on the back of the plate. The instructions suggested letting this dry overnight before hanging, so out of an abundance of caution, that is exactly what I did. It  probably would have been fine after a few hours, though. A little more work than the standard wire frames, but the finished look is much cleaner!

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A few thoughts on laying out your plate wall (and this probably goes for any gallery wall):

  1. Find a space where your plates will be easy to view and appreciate. For me, this was the blank & boring wall behind my dining table, a space where the pictures have added some much-needed height and interest.
  2. Lay out your plates carefully. I traced each plate onto paper, and labeled it with a little description of the plate. I wanted to make sure that I varied the shapes and designs, and didn’t want to do so on the fly.
  3. Use your plates to create shape or movement. My plates actually fit neatly around the lamp that’s been living in this corner, but I had designed them so that they would be visually moving up the wall. As we add more plates to our collection, that movement will help guide me with placement.

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You can find some of these plates currently in stock at Crate & Barrel and West Elm. Some of these plates are years old Anthropologie, but there are a few in stock today that I think are just darling:

How To Brunch At Home

One of my favorite ways to relax on the weekend is over brunch with good friends. I love checking out new brunch spots and going to the usual favorites too. I usually have a hard time deciding between eggy, savory dishes and sweet things that I never make at home like French toast. I never have a hard time deciding on a mimosa 😉

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In the interest of not having to make a reservation, saving a buck or two, and an excuse to use my new copper chargers from Crate and Barrel, I had two of my favorite ladies and their respective husbands/boyfriends over for brunch this weekend. It was super casual, but I did put more thought than usual into the food I chose. My favorite element of brunch is the lingering, taking our time and doing a little more talking than eating. I hadn’t seen some of these friends in a bit and I wanted us to have all the time we needed to catch up!

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Before anyone arrived, I prepped the two plated meals — I sliced the grapefruits in half, separating the segments from outside peel and the thin membranes. I mixed the cinnamon and brown sugar. I chopped and diced the jalapenos, garlic, and onions for the shakshuka, and I hand crushed the tomatoes (apron on! I’ve learned that one the hard way 😉 )

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Pretty in pink (cookie edition)

I love activities that are hands-on. Maybe because I spend all of my work day staring at a computer making decks. There’s just something about making something with my hands that is so satisfying and relaxing! Probably explains why I started to love cooking around the same time I started my first job after college. And probably explains why I love going to those paint your own pottery places. As if I need another painted mug, right?!

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So for me, this idea by my sister was TOPS. She suggested that we bake and decorate some fun cookies for Valentine’s Day to share with our best friends…… or just eat ourselves. Two dozen heart shaped cookies (I used this sugar cookie recipe from She Makes A Home), three GIANT bowls of buttercream frosting tinted pink with Wilton’s concentrate gel dye, and about a zillion sprinkles. She came over with her roomies and we got right down to it!

Oh and we also had a killer wine selection: the Velvet Devil, Seven Deadly Zins, and a dark chocolate red wine. All delicious!


I’m already trying to find an excuse to recreate this gathering. Are Easter cookies a thing? Can we put frosting on matzah for Passover? What about Memorial Day cookies?



In the meantime, I’ll just be here licking the frosting bowl 🙂

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Valentine’s Day dinner for two

Though I know it’s a bit of a commercial holiday, I can’t help but love Valentine’s Day.

I have celebrated a few different ways over the years – mailing out pretty or silly cards to far-flung friends, going on weekend getaways with Steve (note: Philly’s Italian BYO restaurant scene was the perfect romantic/fun date!), hosting Galentine’s Day parties. Besides all the chocolate + rosé, it’s a great time for sentimental me to get all mushy about the people I love. 

One of my favorite Valentine’s Day memories was my second Valentine’s Day with Steve. In a valiant effort to redeem our first Valentine’s Day, wherein we were long distance and he… forgot about it… Steve kicked out all of his housemates and made me a super awesome dinner at home. Seared rare tuna steaks that he marinated in fresh ginger and soy sauce, with roasted asparagus. An actual expensive bottle of wine and brie and PATE (ew, but A for effort)! I knew he was trying hard to impress, and he was uncharacteristically nervous. The whole thing was so sweet and romantic, and it helped that it was SUPER delicious as well. 

Cooking for a loved one is such a genuine way to show love. Cooking is effort, thoughtfulness, precision. So if you’re looking for a way to show someone how you feel, why not make them a special dinner for two?

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A few thoughts on what makes a good Valentine’s Day meal:

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Registry essentials for cooks & hosts

My kitchen is always the center of activity when we have people over, and it used to drive me crazy.

I’d be saying polite things like “no its okay I don’t need any help” all while thinking frantic things like “get out of here there’s barely enough room for two people in my kitchen and you are in my way!!!! there are snacks in the other room! stop eating the ingredients!”

The kitchen was always a hot mess before a party (okay, that part hasn’t changed) and I felt kind of exposed and harried if someone was watching me.

When I finally learned to embrace the distractions, ahem, I mean the company, I found that I actually loved it. It’s so nice to spend more time chatting with the people you invited over, and no one is expecting your home to be like a restaurant – they just want to hang out with you! If that makes dinner a few minutes late, who cares… that’s what the extra bottle of wine is for 🙂

One outcome of this revelation was that I wanted to up my kitchen game. Our first apartment together had a teeny galley kitchen with a half-size gas oven that worked, coincidentally, about half the time. (Yes, this is a health hazard and yes, our landlord took their sweet time replacing it!) Our new kitchen has about double the cabinet space (yes!) with a full size oven (yes!), but it is an electric stove (boo) and an open kitchen into our living/dining room area (MAJOR boo. can’t hide the mess anymore!) Well, you can’t win ’em all!

With additional storage space and more eyes than ever on the action, it was time to get some nicer kitchen gear. These are classic pieces – though I’ll always love my fun, unique kitchen pieces, these are workhorses that get the job done and will look great in this apartment and 50 years down the road. For those of you who love to entertain, whether you’re actually registering or just taking yourself shopping, here are the most used and loved items from our registry!

 

  • Staub Oval Cocotte: oh wait, was this one obvious? It’s been in most of the pictures I’ve shared, so, yeah, probably pretty obvious. Beyond its obvious beauty, this thing is a champ on the stove or in the oven. From braising meats to simmering soups or chilis, this puppy can do it all and then look gorgeous on your table. The lid has little nibs on the inside that help keep moisture circulating while cooking and yield the most tender meat. That and the rich color made Staub an easy choice for me over Le Creuset!
  • Shun Classic collection knives: speaking of game changers, These. Are. Amazing. To be fair, my knife set before this was 6 years old and hadn’t been sharpened in quite some time. But still, the Shun set cuts through anything easy as butter.
  • KitchenAid Design Series Stand Mixer in Antique Copper: Because, duh. I’m not even going to say anything else. I love the color to death and it looks fantastic in my imaginary future white marble countertop kitchen. (Check back in 10 years to see if I’ve made any progress towards confirming that.) Champagne and Blueberry are equally stunning.
  • Wine decanter. Not that I always remember (or bother) to use it, but I’m always amazed by how it improves the taste of red wine. Plus, its a way more elegant look on your bar cart or table! This isn’t the exact one we have, but I love  its  shape!
  • Crate & Barrel Marin Dinner Plates in White: Steve and I had a HUGE debate about plates when we were registering! He favored the more classic/traditional styles, and I was all about modern looks with more color and texture. These were our compromise, and they are perfect! Equal parts new and classic, the crisp white is a great backdrop for all food and the texture and subtle greying on the organic-shaped rims are the perfect pop of interest. Plus, they look great with all the colorful plates I already have! 😉

What are your favorite kitchen pieces for cooking or entertaining? I’d love to know!

Gotta risk it for the brisket

One thing I like to do when planning a menu, for any kind of party, is to rely on familiar favorites. There’s no reason to experiment with something unknown and expensive under pressure – do that on your own time! I don’t mean to suggest that you should gravitate towards boring options, but I do mean pick dishes that you’ve served before, use techniques that you’re familiar with and have mastered, etc.

This just seems like common sense, and a good way to make sure you don’t make mistakes when your guests are arriving soon.

Right?

This is the story of how that principle didn’t pan out so well for me.

We had 12 friends over for dinner last Friday. Remember, I live in the D.C. area, where we were just slammed by Winter Storm (ahem, blizzard) Jonas. Everyone was planning to walk to our apartment, and the snow had been scheduled to start coming down thick around noon that day. Warm and comforting were top priorities for food.  

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Weird mix of Jewish, southern, and modern? I’m all over it.

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Dinner party inspiration

We’re hosting 8 friends for dinner on Friday. Or maybe 9. Plus the two of us, that’s 11 chairs required, with only 8 on hand…oh, and four of those are actually bar stools. This is going to be a litttttle cozy.

Which is kind of perfect. This weekend’s forecast is calling for a big dump of snow and I can think of nothing better than being snowed in and watching it pile up with some of my favorite people.

Our friends like to host a rotating dinner club, where one apartment makes a feast and everyone else just shows up, sometimes with a friend or two in tow. We’ve kind of let dinner club slip by the wayside recently (#holidaze), and the new year is the perfect time to start fresh. Note to friends: who’s hosting next?

Besides the shortage of chairs, I only have one problem – I have to work Friday and won’t have a ton of time to prep before people arrive. Dinner’s got to be something that cooks slow and low, and warms everyone up. I’ve got a few ideas up my sleeve 😉

In the meantime, I’m loving the chic winter dinner party inspiration I’m finding on Pinterest! Those pomegranate Moscow Mules are calling my name — too bad we only have four copper mugs. (Are you sensing a theme?)

Follow along as I decide on a menu and style at @everyday_soiree on Instagram.