Sunday, May 31, 2009

goodbye old friend

anyone who has ever loved and lost a pet can understand how incredibly sad we were when we said goodbye to our beautiful orange cat abe this past winter. his demeanor was sweet and human-like, his fur was soft and powdery, and his meow, surprisingly high-pitched for a cat of his size and presence. i miss him every day and still sometimes forget to remember that he is gone.

when the spring finally came, i planted seeds for some cosmos, hoping that their orange and yellow blooms would be a cheerful reminder of our special cat. it's a nice feeling to remember him with something beautiful and natural, under the sky, surrounded by birds and squirrels and other elements of the natural world. and it's a reminder that life is a cycle. as the seeds start to sprout up through the dirt, i am looking forward to watching them bloom, and wondering if i will always think abe is just in the other room as i so often do even now. i sort of hope i do.

Friday, May 29, 2009

fiesta in a pitcher

for our neighbors' memorial day barbecue, i made a pitcher of sangria with the fruits that looked best at the produce stand this week. it was really easy to make, and everyone loved it. after all the liquid was gone, and only wine-soaked fruit remained, i just poured another bottle of wine in and it lasted a whole other round.
of course, any of the ingredients could be swapped out for any others you prefer - that's the beauty of something like sangria. what problem could you really have with fruit-soaked wine?

honey's easy sangria
2 bottles chilean or argentinian malbec
2 cups diet cherry 7-up (yes, it's back!)
1 cup quartered strawberries
3 peaches, cut in wedges
2 apples, cut in wedges (fuji or gala are best)
1 small can diced pineapples, with juice - added at end

the day before the sangria was to be served, i placed the apples, strawberries and peaches into my favorite glass pitcher and poured in both bottles of wine and the diet 7-up. i stirred it, covered it with saran wrap and put it in the refrigerator. the next day, right before i brought it next door, i added the can of diced pineapples with the juice, stirred, and served. success!

Thursday, May 28, 2009

flower power with staying power

when buying flowers for a special occasion, it's important to time your purchase right. here's what my experience has dictated: IF you are working with flowers like mums, daisies, sunflowers, orchids, etc, you will be buying them looking pretty much how they will look for the rest of their lives. therefore, it's best to buy them the day before your event, cut their stems on a slant under running water and immerse them in cold water immediately. overnight, they'll sort of settle into their positions in your arrangement, the air in the water will settle and you will get a comfortable, beautiful arrangement.

if, however, you are using flowers that open increasingly over time such as roses, peonies, tulips, lilies, etc, my recommendation is to purchase them a few days before you need them, and try to get an assortment of closed to semi-closed blooms so that by the time you use them they will be semi-open and open. below are roses on a saturday that i had purchased the wednesday evening before. i kept them packaged as they came with their stems immersed in cold water in a large soup pot in a dark, cool place (downstairs powder room) and didn't cut and arrange them until the morning of my event. not only did they look gorgeous that day, they continued to for the next 2 or 3 days with one water change in between.

on another day, i learned the hard way that the peonies pictured below, so open and incredible looking, were a little too open - the magenta one started shedding its gauzy, frondy petals moments after i placed them in the vase, though the other two stayed fresh for another day or so. all in all, i got about 10 minutes of enjoyment out of them, which is a very expensive 10 minutes, as peonies are priced. perhaps a couple days sooner would have been better for these, and as you can see from the pictures below, there are many stages of open-ness between the way you often see them sold and the full-glory bloom pictured here. but are they gorg or what?

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

take it to go

such a simple, but clever concept, and one so many of us try to achieve as we acquire the "stuff" we lug around every day. this set of five matching nylon totes ($45 at cambria cove) makes it so that even when the load you're carrying keeps growing and growing, as mine always does, you can still look coordinated. i wish they made them in other color schemes too, so there would be a brown bag set and a black bag set. and then you could match them with your brown coat or your black coat. and get the idea.

also really excellent travel items are these shoe and laundry bags. i love coordinated things like that - they feel so neat and orderly, and are such a pleasure to look at. i also find that things like this provide a feeling of comfort and familiarity when i'm out of my comfort zone. i am definitely keeping these in mind as a gift idea for someone who travels alot. or as a "gift" for myself.

related: matching grocery bags

Saturday, May 23, 2009

a story on every shelf

inspired by the recent rash of exposed kitchen shelving in shelter magazines, i set out to revive and reorganize my mother's kitchen, a true blend of new and old, mix and match. my theory was that with only two people living in the house, their groceries didn't need to take up the majority of the kitchen storage. also, and most of all, i thought that all the special tabletop items they've acquired over the years should be on display and accessible. my father was skeptical, but my mother was willing to play along, so the week before thanksgiving, we got to work. once we cleared off and wiped down all the shelves (definitely the most time consuming part), we started placing items based on weight distribution, mode of use and visual balance.

over many years, the pantry closet in the kitchen became a catch-all for groceries, supplies, medications, liquor, spare dishes and any number of other items, based on the season.

by placing the most often used items like everyday dishes and serving pieces at eye-level, removing them and putting them away is actually easier than using above-counter cabinets. especially in a household with artifacts from many generations and experiences, it's a treat for the people who live there and for their guests to be able to observe the celebration of styles, eras and patterns and enjoy the stories and memories they tell. to me, the inside of this pantry evokes a lived-in beauty that comes from the eclectic layering of materials, time periods and shapes. it's the type of collection that can't be planned or positioned, but just exists honestly. ilove that it's now on display, and think any family home could try a look like this.


although my father was looking for cereal among the casserole dishes for a few weeks, he eventually adjusted and they are now getting more use out of a wider variety of pieces that previously collected dust in the darkest corners of an old china cabinet.
the groceries and supplies benefitted in the same way - by placing them in smaller cabinets and using the space more economically, it is easier to see what is available and avoid wasting or duplicating.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

an affair to remember

most of us are lucky enough to have visited places that reach a special part of ourselves and make us feel whole and alive in ways other places don't. i was lucky enough to find one of them, get married there, and continue to return to it as a place to remember, to look forward to, and to savor life's happy moments in between. emerson resort in mt. tremper, new york is a resort and spa nestled in the catskills, about 10 miles outside woodstock. the resort maintains a rural aesthetic throughout, paired with an incredibly refined and eclectic kind of luxury not often seen in the places i've been - so much so that i had to write an entirely separate post about our one year anniversary emerson weekend.

in the fall of 2007, my husband mitchell and i were married at emerson in a fantastic, weekend-long celebration with our closest family and friends. the weather was amazing - bright and sunny, with an autumn chill in the air. everyone arrived on friday afternoon, and we had a bluegrass country dinner that night with jalapeno cornbread, angus burgers and jambalaya, followed by a bonfire sing-along on the esopus creek (actually the beginning of nyc's watersource!)

during the day on saturday, our guests enjoyed the incredible spa , walked around woodstock, shopped in emerson's country store and kayaked on the creek. the wedding was saturday night, and went in with a bang when at our streamside ceremony was punctuated with a paper confetti explosion, showering us all as the ceremonial glass was broken and we were happily announced "husband and wife."

we chose hudson valley seasonal items for the menu --hoisin duck wraps, potato pancakes with creme fraiche & caviar, spicy corn chowder, roasted chicken and new york strip, among many other carefully selected choices. we also had a tequila bar where four varieties of tequila were poured through an ice louge (every season is tequila season). we did a marathon hora, and danced to amy winehouse, michael jackson, stevie wonder, and all the crooners, compliments of the best DJ i have ever known. he kept the party going even later than we planned, because no one wanted to stop dancing! to cool people off on the dancefloor, we circulated bottles of ice water, cool towels and fresh-made sorbet at different points in the night. the evening was capped off with red velvet cupcakes and "have a little faith in me" by joe cocker. on sunday, we said goodbye to our guests at a stream-side brunch replete with a crepe station, country bacon that people still talk about, and of course, bagels and lox, among other things.

it was an incredible weekend, and one mitchell and i talk about often, and will never forget. aside from the obvious, some of the aspects i enjoyed the most were the small details that i get a kick out of planning, like the personalized "java jackets" we used. at friday night's bonfire, we served candy apples and hot rum cider (spiked or virgin) in cups with java jackets that read "thank you for sharing this special weekend, love carla & mitchell," and on sunday at the brunch, tables were adorned with many pounds of fresh local apples and "to-go" coffee and tea was served in hot cups with java jackets that said "get home safely, love mr. and mrs. rothberg." repetition and running themes make me smile :)

aesthetically, the wedding was everything i had thought about for so long - all golds, browns, reds and oranges, and the location itself tied everything together. i was very mindful of making choices that capitalized on the setting and surroundings. i find that if you don't do that, you're automatically working against them, and thereby diminshing the impact of whatever elements you're adding. with all the money, time and effort that goes into any creative endeavor, it's a shame to be have such competition.

at some point, we saw another wedding being set up at the emerson, and it was a perfect example of the incongruity that comes with making aesthetic choices in a vacuum, not taking into consideration the built-in framework around you. it was mid-october and the mountains and trees were truly ablaze with color. in the large, lodge-type space where our cocktail hour and dancing were, they were setting up a wedding with abundant white and pale pink roses and orchids. it looked like a spring wedding in a hotel ballroom. now, i love a spring wedding in a hotel ballroom, just not when its in october in a lodge with wood beams and animal skin chairs. it was a shame that the gorgeous red and orange mountains on display through the picture windows were such competition for the white and pink floral arrangements on the tables, and vice versa. in a way, it ended up being a wash, and in that, neither the beauty of her colors and bridal style, nor the natural beauty of the catskills in autumn got its due.

that visual lesson cemented for me what i instinctively knew but hadn't quite crystalized. by using the setting for an event as a foundation on which to build, rather than as a clean slate to disregard or compete with, you get more bang for the bucks you spend, and you get the priceless value of immersion and consistency for free. for my wedding, although i made all the choices about flowers, lighting and colors (and they were certainly not free), and although i worked with a team of professionals to achieve what i envisioned, what made it work was the seasonal and stylistic consistency between my choices and what existed before i ever knew about emerson resort.

the unexpected bonus that mitchell and i get to keep is that the briskness of autumn, the colors of pumpkins and mums and the fragrance of apples will always remind us of the weekend we became "the rothbergs." and we get to relive those sensory memories each time fall rolls around. i don't think we would have ended up with that take-away if i had chosen pink orchids.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

sweet lessons learned

i hate quitting. and i hate when i set out to do something spectacular and it doesn't work out...spectacularly. such was the case with the centerpieces for a bridal shower i planned this spring.

candy was the theme and all things sweet and sugary were the tools for decoration. after hours at the craft store concocting my plan, i purchased several sheets of styrofoam boards, a glue gun and lots of glue sticks. i also ordered about 100 pounds of bulk candy from a wholesaler. yes, some was for the very abundant candy buffet, but much of it was for the centerpieces...i would be making "wedding cakes" out of layers of styrofoam cut into squares, each layer wrapped in white wrapping paper to mimic fondant, and covered, every centimeter, in candy - a different type for each of the 9 tables. i knew it was a lofty plan, and the anxiety about it had been clawing at me for weeks. but i was determined, and told myself repeatedly that it would be fine.

i wish i had taken pictures on construction day to fully demonstrate how NOT fine it was. half way through the day, in spite of myself, i had to do an about face. one of the "cakes" had turned out well, and that one would adorn the placecard table, but generally, the plan had not worked, and i didn't have time to be stubborn. after some bargaining with myself, i knew another plan was required. back to the craft store i went, where i purchased 2 basic rectangular vases for each table. i also purchased about 100 very long, bendy lollipops and created some very cute, very festive, candylicious centerpieces that everyone absolutely loved. with all the candy, games and wishes for the bride, the day turned out to be as sweet as i had imagined.

i definitely believe that experiences and projects live on through what they teach us. here's what i learned with this one:

lesson 1: don't take on overly ambitious crafts projects (particularly when you're not an overly crafty person)

lesson 2: don't be too stubborn to recognize when a plan is not working and do an about face

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