Thursday, November 29, 2012

Seasons Cheating's!

I know we have a month or so until Christmas, but why does everyone seem so busy and worried? Maybe it's because of all that has happened over the last month, or maybe it is just that normal insanity that seems to take over at this time of year. We want to buy the newest, favorite thing, and we have to try and create the perfect memory (again). We all know that it won't be perfect - we'll stand on line for the one thing we can't find, the dog will throw up from eating something he shouldn't have, and the children will be so exhausted they'll just play with the wrapping paper.

And, that is what the Holidays should be about (mistakes always make for a better story). So, while we strive to get it all done, I thought I could suggest some easy ways to cheat during the Holidays, and perhaps let you enjoy a little bit of peace and joy in-between.  

Make a great, (semi) homemade dessert: Buy good quality cookie dough and vanilla ice cream from the supermarket. Bake the cookies (takes about 15 minutes). Sprinkle some sugar, chocolate chips, crushed candy canes or edible glitter on the top before baking. When ready for dessert, assemble the most delicious ice cream sandwiches. 

Plan at least one occasion that includes all the people you like: We all know that this is a time of obligation, but don't forget to spend time with your friends and family that you really cherish. Knowing you have this to look forward to, will help you get through the other stuff. Plan a time, and invite them asap.

Schedule a half day, or evening, to write lists, cards and plan your present buying: Being organized will save you a ton of time and stress in the long run. Pajamas and a glass of egg-nog optional.     

Expect to forget: Buy a couple of nice, generic gifts now, or, put some money aside for last minute purchases. My go-to is always something edible (of course). Buy striped candy canes and white chocolate at the supermarket (and containers). White chocolate peppermint bark is easy, tastes delicious (even if you don't like white chocolate and peppermint), inexpensive, and looks really pretty and festive! 

Write down a couple of outfits that you know are perfect for an occasion, and post the list inside your closet: No more last minute frustration staring in the mirror, wondering what to wear. 

Challenge yourself to stop and think before you go out and buy more stuff: Do you really want to take the time to buy more nodding reindeer for the garden, another scented candle and 27 types of wrapping paper? 

Be flexible, and don't be store/brand loyal: If you see something just as good (or different) somewhere else, get it.

Schedule time for things that will make you feel good: Go to a community Tree-lighting, a Christmas Concert, Holiday fair or Bake sale. Volunteer or Donate to something that you really believe in. Watch cartoons on the television, or rent a favorite family movie.

Follow your instincts as much as you can: If you want to, do it, if you don't....don't.

p.s. By the way, did you know that you could even make your own candy canes? Would that be cheating?

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Thanksgiving Made Easy

I spent some time researching beautiful Thanksgiving photographs, then I came across this one. Of course, we all strive to have the beautifully set table, with the perfect family, but rarely does that happen. Now and again, the stars are aligned, and the day may go exactly how you dreamed it would, but usually it looks a little bit like the one above - mis-matched casserole dishes, warm bread from the supermarket, and football on the television.

Have to be honest, I never understood why people stressed over it so much (until I did it myself, and dropped the entire, over-cooked turkey on the floor). Once I recovered from the embarrassment (yes, we still ate it), I learned that it really is best to keep it simple. So, even if you don't like to cook (or bake, or entertain) there are still a lot of ways to serve a lovely dinner to those people who you truly want to spend time with:
  • Make a list of what you would like to serve ahead of time. Then, when people offer to bring something, you can say "Yes, please, could you bring the pickled, jellied, pineapple Ambrosia?".
  • Consider making new traditions, that are easier, but still festive (eg. a Pumpkin Cheesecake is easier than baking an Apple Pie, feeds more people, and can be made a couple of days in advance. Or, buy a frozen Apple Pie and sprinkle sugar and/or caramel on the top before baking). 
  • For a large group, make hot cider, mulled wine or punch in a crock pot. Your guests can help themselves, it can sit all day, and it makes the house smell really good.
  • For appetizers, keep everything cold, or at room temperature (cheese, crackers, fruit, nuts etc). No need to fight for oven space. 
  • If you've never cooked a turkey, get easy directions from a reputable food website. Check the inside, and neck of the turkey, for miscellaneous bags of gizzards, plastic etc before cooking (trust me on this - apart from the embarrassment, they can make the whole turkey smell, and taste, kind of strange). 
  • Don't be intimidated by making the perfect stuffing and gravy -  *Make stuffing in a casserole dish (reheat slowly, the day of, covered, with extra chicken broth added) -  *Buy a really good gravy from a local farm market, make your own ahead of time (and freeze it) or buy a low salt, home-style one at the Supermarket. Add some of your turkey drippings, and a bit of butter to it at the last minute.
  • Plan what serving dishes and utensils you will be using for each item. (Write it down on a sticky note, and put it in that dish, so that you don't forget - and your guests can help you serve the food).
  • Think about where people can sit, before and after dinner. Do you need to move some furniture around? 
  • Okay, I know this seems weird, but put a new toilet roll (and plunger's, if possible) in all the bathrooms. Saves your guests from being stranded and embarrassed. 
Be prepared (and don't panic) if something goes wrong: 
Over-cooked turkey?  Slice it up, put it in a large casserole dish, pour hot gravy over it (or chicken broth) cover in foil and let it sit for a while.
Under-cooked turkey? Take a deep breath, cut it off the bone, and microwave it (horrible, I know, but you can't serve raw turkey).
Overcooked veggies? Pan fry for a moment, to get rid of some of the water, then stir in some butter. (If they are really awful, admit defeat, and throw them out).
Not enough serving dishes? It is much easier to have several small dishes, instead of one or two gigantic ones. Just use your everyday dishes to fill in the gaps - bowls, cups, extra plates etc. Use plastic and glass bowls as well. Nothing has to match.
Not enough dining chairs? First, check the rest of the house for stools and desk chairs etc. If still not enough, set up a picnic, and have the children eat in the kitchen or family room. Or, make it a buffet, and let everyone fight for their seats at the table.
Forget to buy drinks? Oops. Hope someone brings a bottle. Be grateful your water is nice to drink!
I could go on and on, but then that means less time to plan your Holiday dinner, and definitely less time to enjoy this lovely weekend!

Friday, November 9, 2012

Why Not?

I confess, I can be a bit stubborn, and, sometimes, when someone says that it can’t be done, I ask “Why not?”.  To me, decorating belongs in the Land of “Why not’s?” - a place where rules are simply things that other people made up.

Don’t get me wrong, when I started out on my decorating  journey, I also followed the guidelines about what I should (and shouldn’t do). Because, that’s what you do when you don’t know. I put up flowery curtains, painted all of my rooms cream, and bought a platter that said “Turkey” on it. (For my first Thanksgiving dinner, of course. I wouldn’t have dreamed of serving turkey, unless I had the appropriate platter to put it on).

Fortunately, after a while, we all decide that we really do (or do not) like flowery curtains, and we start to sift through our own style. We may, or may not, keep the Turkey platter, and we decide to paint the walls a darker shade of cream. We watch design shows, and pour over paint samples, but now and again we hesitate, and we wonder if what we want to do is really okay. Here is a list of some design things that really are okay (despite what you may have heard).

  • Hang artwork at whatever height you like, wherever you want to. (And, use the smallest, most effective hook you can. Art weighs a heck of a lot less than you think).
  • Go ahead, use dark paint in a small room, and add big furniture (but less of it). Makes it cozy and dramatic at the same time.
  • When buying/remodelling a home, consider whether or not you want a formal Dining Room. Many people don’t use it, and it can become a clutter collector. Don’t have one “just because”.
  • Not every room has to have a “pop of color”. Really. There are lots of neutral rooms that are truly beautiful.
  • It’s okay, put a bed in front of your window if you want to.
  • Give the Master Bedroom to your children, or use it as an office space. Do you really need a gigantic bedroom?
As you can see, the point is that design rules are just guidelines to get you started, or, as the late, great Katherine Hepburn said  “If you obey all the rules, you miss all the fun!”

Gorgeous bedroom from Bungalow at Home

Monday, November 5, 2012

After the Hurricane

I know that many of you are inundated with Hurricane information; the photographs, the news updates, and the information on what to do, and what not to do.....But, as I live in New Jersey, I decided I had to write something.
First of all, I just want to thank people for their concern and offers of help. We are so lucky to have only lost power and a handful of trees, but I admit that the night it happened was one of the scariest I have had in a long time. The noise of branches falling onto our roof became so loud that we actually slept downstairs; once there, we lay on the sofas and watched the sky constantly light up as the transformers exploded all over the county. We were afraid, and we talked about where we would go if we needed to leave the house. 
After barely sleeping, we woke to a day that was eerily silent, and we thought for a while that maybe it hadn't been as bad as it seemed. We got ready, and drove to a nearby friend's house for coffee. There was another family there, and we all huddled in front of the television, not quite believing that what they were showing was within miles of where we lived. The towns they were naming were all familiar, and we watched for hours, trying to accept the largeness of what had happened, seemingly overnight. Quickly, we heard that areas would be rebuilt, everyone would be taken care of, and it would eventually be okay. I silently wondered if maybe the absence of what we were doing was actually what makes us so resilient in a disaster. If we don't have time to watch television, or read the newspapers, maybe we don't know it is quite so bad, and we just move forward, our optimism motivated by a cloud of ignorance.
Trees are down everywhere, and we know that it is just a matter of time before they will be moved, and our electricity is restored. For so many others it isn't so easy; lines can't be repaired, and homes may never be replaced. Yes, I am lucky (a nearby friend has loaned us her home to warm up, shower and share meals), but I admit it is also driving me a little crazy. Now that it has been six days, the town is a strange mix of compassion and crankiness - everyone wants to help who they can, but many are tired, and just want things to go back to normal. Once again, we are forced to realize how much we rely on technology, and we are almost embarrassed to admit the comforts that we miss the most (a hot shower and a cup of tea).
I have learned some things over the last week, so I thought I would share them with you:
- I can boil water for a cup of tea with 3 votive candles, a metal trivet and a very posh china cup! Put a lid on top, and it heats even quicker.
- My street is black as pitch after dark. (No flashlight, no way to find the front door).
- My daughter is one of the best people on the planet (maybe I needed a little bit of silence for me to hear that).
- The people who are back at work, doing all kinds of Customer Service, should get an award (especially Dana, my Orthodontist's Receptionist). These people also have no power, and gas restrictions, but they still have to get dressed, look presentable, and put a smile on their face.
- Thank goodness for cell phones. Many of my friends and family are far away, so to be able to text has been a godsend for all of us.

With that, I will sign off, and thank my friend for letting me use her laptop (for which I am woefully incompetent at) knowing that I am one of the very lucky one's who only has to worry about heating up her cup of tea.