For the past few years, I’ve hosted a holiday luncheon for about 40-50 people, kids included. It’s the one big party I have every year to invite the people that have included us in their family celebrations throughout the year and that we see on a regular basis.
The first year or two, the party planning was stressful, mainly because I wasn’t equipped with all of the plates, cutlery, serving dishes, chafing dishes, and coffee maker that I needed and I wasn’t sure about the timing of getting things done. Recently, though, I’ve figured out how to make it as stress-free as possible and I can say that this year’s party was the easiest. It only took 5 years, but that’s okay! If you’re considering hosting some form of holiday party, I hope some of these tips will help:
Tip 1: Give as much notice of the party as possible. I try to give the guests about 3-4 weeks’ notice. Because I hold the party at least 3 weeks before Christmas, most of the guests are still ‘free’ and not caught up in the holiday shopping or other parties. It’s also a fun way for you and the guests to ease into the holiday season.
Tip 2: Start cleaning out the freezer and fridge two weeks before the party. Go through the fridge and freezer and make a mental note of what you can use in the next week or two and toss what is expired. Start buying fewer perishable items like fruits, vegetables, meat, and dairy products, so that your fridge remains clean and empty. Cook meals that won’t have too many leftovers. And, consider ordering in or eating out for the last two days before the party… bonus for you and the husband and kids!
Tip 3: Bake ahead. Sounds easy enough, but this means that your freezer, from the tip one above, has been cleared out and can handle all of the desserts you are making ahead and freezing. It also means you have made a list of the desserts you are planning on making and that you have on hand storage containers, plastic wrap, waxed paper, and all of the required baking ingredients. Start baking two weeks ahead so the last week can be spent on prepping the house and buying fresh food for the party.
Tip 4: Stock up and shop early. In the days leading up to the party, make sure you have enough drinks, napkins, cutlery, plates, tablecloths, etc on hand. As you do your regular grocery shopping, you will come across these items and buying them as you go along means you won’t have to go out and do a huge shop the day or two before the party when you are preparing last minute dishes and cleaning up your home. It also means you can buy some items on your list on sale if you’re shopping ahead. One thing I did this year was shop for perishable items two days before the party so that I could spend the day before the party making salads and not running around buying food items. I found this really helped.
Tip 5: Set the table a few days in advance. Hands down, this is the biggest tip I can give you. Seriously. There are several reasons this is useful. First, it helps you clean up the area around which the party will be centered. Second, when you lay out the serving dishes and cutlery, you realize what is missing in terms of hard goods or grocery items that you need to purchase. Third, when you see the serving dishes laid out, you might remember that you wanted to add or subtract a dish that doesn’t really go with the menu – or, that you need to spruce up the menu!
Tip 6: Cater a portion of your party. Because my party is at lunch, there’s a lot to do in the mornings and it gets very rushed. By catering part of the meal, it takes some pressure off of you and it provides a nice mix between homemade and store-bought items. I do that with the mains as well as the desserts. For example, we order in smoked meat but I make a Cobb Salad as well as a few others. I buy a cheesecake, and friends bring a couple of desserts.
Tip 7: Get help. There’s no way you can host a party and clean up at the same time. Nor can you set up for a party for 50 people and have everything ready at the same time in terms of food. Hire someone to keep the kitchen clean and orderly. This same person can help you do some pre-party clean-up as well as some food prep. And, if you have a friend who loves to help with parties, ask her to come a bit early to help you plate the food so that all of the dishes are on the table and the guests can enjoy their food together. This year in particular, there was a lot going on during the weekend of the party, so my close friend (you know who you are!) saved me by coming early and plating so many of the dishes.
Finally, make sure you have your (simple) outfit planned for the day because you will have just a few minutes to get ready yourself – that’s just how it goes!! Whether you’re hosting a holiday party or one later in the year, I hope you find some of these tips helpful. Because we all have different ways of doing things successfully, I’d love to know what your secret tips are for hosting a party that works for you.
Have you noticed all the patches on clothing these days? I love how colorful and fun they are and how much they remind me of when I was a Girl Scout working hard on collecting all of those badges. Nostalgia aside, we’re talking about patches, not badges, here.
So, what’s the difference between a badge and a patch? According to one Girl Scout website, badges are given for completing competencies while patches are given for more fun activities. Good to know. The fashion houses and stores are therefore supplying us with patch inspiration. It’s the combinations, colors, sizes, textures, and messages that appeal to us.
In researching this post, I came across a great website called Asilda Store. Founded by LA-based photographer Anastasia Petukhova, this website sells patches and has a great blog that covers the history of patches as well as other useful information. For example, there’s a post on how patches are designed and one on how to sew or iron patches on. And, there’s one on the history of patches.
Apart from the obvious beginning of using colorful patches to mend ripped jeans, the Asilda Store post traces the history of patches from the ’70s when peace, love, and happiness were the themes, to the ’80s when the punk movement took place. This year in particular, many designers have added patches to their clothing or handbags. It’s not surprising to see this trend resurface and likely be with us for a while. In a way, these patches are like the emojis we use in texting and communicating – but they are on our clothing and accessories.
You can buy items with patches on them or you can make a more personal statement by DIY-ing anything you own like jeans or a jean jacket. If you don’t want to sew or iron anything on, keep it simple by buying a few pins and putting them on a jacket or looking for some pins you’ve collected over the years that you likely have in your drawers.
The top I’m wearing here is from Zara. It’s navy, so I love it for that reason alone. I like the varsity ‘W’ on the front because it’s got a fuzzy, raised texture. And, I like the military chevron as well as the ‘silly lips’ patches on the sleeves. It’s not overly ‘patched’ and is a fairly subtle way to wear the trend. There’s something vintage-y about patches that appeals to me. I’m wearing the top with jeans because it’s a casual top. The front is made of a quilted cotton and the sleeves are poplin. Because of its two-textured nature, the top looks a bit dressy and works well with plain denim. The chelsea boots keep the look casual.
Have you tried this trend? Have you embellished something in the past that you still treasure? Would you try this trend?
Lug-soled fashion shoes have been around for the last couple of years and for good reason: they’re sturdy, comfortable, and now come in many styles and options. According to The Free Dictionary, a lug sole is a thick rubber sole with deep indentations that improve the stability and traction of utility footwear such as work boots’. Lug soles are common on hiking boots and other utility shoes but are a big part of the fashion scene now. You can find them on dressy as well as casual shoes, from boots to ballet flats.
I only recently jumped on this trend because I’ve seen them in all the shoe stores and they looked comfortable as well as fashionable. Not something I would normally wear, I decided to try these lug-soled shoes to add a little glamour to my favorite jean outfits. They’re growing on me! I’d also wear these with tights and a skirt or a dress, and I’d wear them with a dressy pant.
The lug-soled pair in this post is made of lightweight rubber, is very easy to wear, and puts a fun twist on a classic leather wing-tip loafer. With the fringe and buckle, it’s a bit dressy and feminine. From above, they look like a regular shoe, but the lug soles extend the perimeter of the shoe just a bit and give it a casual flare. The indentations in the sole provide traction and security when walking. And, the heel is graduated slightly to give an element of ‘high-heeled’ fashion – perfect for me because I’m petite.
Here are a few lug-soled shoes that I’ve linked, in case you’re interested in trying this trend or adding to your collection. Let me know if you do!
With all due respect to Tom Hanks’ character in A League of Their Own, the fictionalized movie about the All-American Girls Professional League, and the infamous line ‘There’s no crying in baseball’, I’m here to tell you: there IS crying in baseball – and that’s okay.
I’m talking about the kind of crying on players’ faces as they realize what it means to become World Series Champs. The kind of crying by loyal fans because ‘fairweather fan’ doesn’t apply when 1908 is the last time your team won. And, the kind of crying that overcomes you at home as you watch the players’ own emotions become your own.
Let me stop right here with the baseball jargon, because I’m in no way qualified to talk baseball with any authority. Rather, I’m a fan who appreciates what baseball teaches me about life and how I weave these lessons into my parenting.
I fell in love with baseball in elementary school, when I had a crush on a boy in my class. It’s that simple. Thankfully, my two brothers played baseball, providing the perfect cover for showing up at games. Over time, I cheered on the teams, kept the score on the old-fashioned wooden scoreboards, and even sat in the announcer’s booths in my small hometown. I learned the rules and saw up-close the upsets and triumphs of the players, the teams, and the parents who so badly wanted their sons to excel at baseball.
Today, my love for baseball means cheering my girls on in softball games and taking them to watch the Toronto Blue Jays. I love what the game teaches my kids about life. And, the World Series last night did not disappoint. Here’s what I’ve observed.
Firstly, baseball teaches us that people and relationships are important. How players interact with their teammates, managers, families and fans affects their environment and performance. They rely on each other because this is a team sport that rests on supportive and positive player relationships. Last night, we saw two beautiful examples of this. The Cubs’ catcher, 39-year-old David Ross, also known as ‘Grandpa Rossy’, is heard counseling 27-year-old Anthony Rizzo on breathing and staying calm throughout the game. Then, the Cubs’ outfielder Jason Heyward took advantage of a 17 minute rain delay in the 10th inning to bring his teammates together to remind them about having fun, competing, being in the game, and believing in themselves. Many players interviewed after the game talked about this rallying weight room talk. You could see and feel that the Cubs were connected.
Second, if showing how to operate under pressure were a judged competition, baseball players would be among the winners. Being called out to pitch, with your team ahead, to the heart of an opposing team’s batting lineup in front of millions, not delivering, and then having cameras watch as you get replaced is not easy. Ask Aroldis Chapman. Going back to the dugout and not talking to anyone while you mull over your performance means you’ve somehow mastered the skill of keeping calm – in public. Interestingly, there isn’t a lot of talk going on between players and managers during these nail-biting games. It’s as if each player is using all of his energy to keep his thoughts and emotions in check.
Thirdly, baseball is about hard and fast rules and numbers. As parents, we know that rules and routines are important and make life a lot easier. Rules give us a framework within which to guide our children along. The Official Baseball Rules of the MLB are outlined in over 150 pages. There’s a protocol for following these rules, including replays and meetings by the officials. As for numbers, a batting average of .300 is considered excellent. With an average like that, it means for every 10 times at bat, you get a hit 3 times and the other 7 times, you don’t. When you explain this concept to your kids, it drives home the idea of staying in the game in order to be ready when the opportunity comes.
Finally, baseball is about being patient. With a 162-game season that starts in April, plus the postseason, you’ve got eight months of baseball a year. That’s a long time, a lot of games to play, and lots of opportunities to set records and have them broken. You just have to watch a few games to hear some of the baseball statistics that are kept! If you go back to David Ross at last night’s game, you see him become the oldest player in the World Series to hit a home run in Game 7. How long did he have to wait for that title? 14 years. And, what a retirement gift! I love how this shows you that things take time, and that sometimes they happen at the very end of a journey.
Arguably, most team sports teach you a lot about life. And, they sometimes involve crying because the emotions that come with persevering and winning are just that powerful. I chose baseball because of a personal connection I have with the sport and because history was made last night. It’s also one of the few sports that I understand and appreciate!
As I look outside and watch the leaves flying off of the trees, it’s clear mid-Fall is here: the postseason is over and the Chicago Cubs are the 2016 World Series Champs. Congratulations! Summer’s favorite sport is over but I’m happy that Spring training is only three months away. I can’t wait!
It’s Halloween in a few days which means it’s one of my favorite times of the year! I’ve got childhood memories of wearing my costume and marching in a parade at school for parents and kids to admire. I’ve got adult memories of carving pumpkins in my college dorm. I’ve got lots of memories of going trick-or-treating with my kids over the years. And, handing out candy dressed in a witch hat is an evening I look forward to all year. So, in my opinion, Halloween is a great excuse to have a party!
I’ve thrown a few Halloween parties for the kids over the years, sometimes themed in with one of my daughter’s birthdays. It’s just too easy to have a Halloween party, especially when the dollar stores, drug stores, and corner stores are all so well-stocked with fun crafts and ideas. Did you know that, in the US, Halloween is about a $7 billion a year industry? Canadians spend about $1 billion, which is more per capita than Americans do on Halloween costumes, decor and candy, according to an October 2014 article in The Financial Post.
Here are my 5 tips for hosting a party, followed by photos of what I’ve done.
Let the kids be involved in setting the agenda.
Do kids come wearing their costume or not? What do they want the main activity to be? What do you want to serve? How many people is comfortable for you and your child to entertain? What time do you want to have the party? I think Halloween is more fun in the dark, so if you can do a late afternoon party, go for it. Continue reading →
I love to follow fashion and will buy and wear things that are ‘in style’, but I think that deep down I tend to be a bit of a classic dresser (can you tell by the pearls with this boho look?!). It may sound boring, but sometimes you just have to know who you are and what you like. You will therefore usually find me wearing sedately fashionable things! So, when I came across this tunic top, I recognized it as the most classic of “Bohemian” looks and thought it was perfect for my taste given it’s calm pattern and somewhat narrow silhouette.
So, the boho tunic top featured here fits the bill in that it is made of viscose, a thin, flowy material made from wood pulp. The style of the top is not structured, nor is the neckline. The small white designs on a navy background are simple, repeated, geometric shapes and are typical patterns in boho prints. Because the top is a bit on the longer side, it can be worn long over jeans or front-tucked.
If you follow my blog, you know I love navy, so this top was a natural purchase for me. It’s also comfortable because it is soft and loose, but not too loose. As a petite gal, I like its slim silhouette and the fact that I can roll or push up the sleeves without them being bulky.
I love tomatoes! And, it’s still tomato season in Ontario. Maybe, like me, you have a few too many in your fridge if you were tempted by the tomato baskets at the grocery store and at farmer’s markets. It’s been hot and dry this season, making conditions perfect for growing beautiful tomatoes. So, I thought I would share a few recipe ideas and links in hopes of inspiring you to try something new.
But, first, let’s take a look at why tomatoes deserve our attention:
Although they have a ‘season’, tomatoes are available year-round (thanks to hot-houses) so they are affordable and you can try different recipes all year long.
There are so many varieties of tomatoes that come in different shapes, colors, and sizes (roma, plum, heirloom, beefsteak, grape, cherry, etc. ) making it easy to mix things up and keep dishes colorful.
Tomatoes make a great snack, especially the smaller ones that can easily be packed into a lunch or for eating on the go.
There are so many ways to use tomatoes: in sauces, in quick salads, and in cooked dishes. My family does not can or jar tomatoes, but I know that many families have the tradition of spending a fun day making tomato sauce to be stored and used all year long.
Finally, tomatoes are easy to serve. They are often my fall-back dish. You can slice them, drizzle them with oil, sprinkle them with salt and pepper, add some basil, and you have a salad in minutes.
Here are a few of my favorite tomato dishes in photos. There are so many obvious dishes that I haven’t put in here like caprese salad, tomato sauce, spaghetti sauce, pizza, and green salads. Because the point of this post was to get you thinking about some different tomato uses, I’ve linked recipes rather than including them in full.
This past Labor Day Weekend, my husband and I were invited to the most exquisite wedding celebration we have ever attended. My friend Paul married his partner Eliav, at the Calistoga Ranch in California’s Napa Valley, in a ‘Mad Men In Napa’, 1960s- themed wedding.
Friends and family participated in three days of wedding festivities which included lots of wine and food, love and laughter, and renewed friendships.
This is, by far, the most elegant, generous, and thoughtful wedding I have ever attended!
I will give you all of the fun and fancy details in a bit, but let’s begin with love and friendship which is what Mad Men in Napa was really all about.
Let’s Talk About The Love…
Paul and Eliav have been together for over 22 years, after Paul answered an ad in The Chicago Reader newspaper. Eliav knew before Paul that they were meant to be together, but it didn’t take Paul that much longer to figure this out! Both partners love traveling, fine dining, collecting wine, and taking in cultural events. They also love spending time with family and friends and, from the speeches given, these treasured relationships have only grown deeper over time.
Paul and Eliav’s wedding was even more special not only because we know how long-lasting and solid their love is after more than 20 years together, but because it was a celebration of life yesterday, today, and tomorrow, coincident with the landmark Obergefell vs Hodges case legalizing same-sex marriage in every state. As such, the grooms’ marriage is symbolic of the natural progression of rights over time as well as a blending of the grooms’ families, cultures, and religions.
…Let’s Talk About The Friendships…
I met Paul in London a long, long time ago. We were on a Junior Year Abroad program at the London School of Economics where we lived in a flat at 37 Nottingham Place, with about 25 other students from various American colleges. We had a group of friends that traveled together to places like Scotland, Wales, Spain, and the then Soviet Union. We explored London neighborhoods and attended the theater on Tuesdays when it was student discount day. And, of course, we spent many many nights at the local pub, talking about Ronald Reagan and politics! Although we were only in London for about 3 months, the friendships and bonds we made would last for a long time and attending Paul and Eliav’s wedding confirmed this.
Paul has been the one who has kept us all connected over the years. He has been the hub of our friendship network, spending time with me when he would come to Toronto on business. On a couple of these trips, Eliav joined Paul, and our families met. When Paul and I saw each other in Toronto, we would visit an art exhibit or a local antique store. Paul would always send me an email in advance with lists and links to the best new restaurants in my own city! Yes, if you know Paul and Eliav, you know what I’m talking about.
Paul would also fill me in on our ‘LSE friends’ that he would see over the years. Sometimes I would just get a quick email saying that he had been in Chicago or New York over the weekend and that he had seen one of our friends. So, bringing us together after all of these years seemed like the most natural of things. Meeting each other’s spouses and significant others was a real treat. And, by extension, meeting and getting to know invited friends and family of the grooms was easy because of the close connections with the couple that we all share.
…And Now, Let’s Talk About All Of The Fun!
As you’ve read, this is no ordinary love…and the celebrations were no ordinary celebrations!
The planning for Mad Men In Napa was a year in the making, the wedding lasted for three days, and the memories are forever. Here’s the journey we experienced as guests.
In January, we received a ‘Save the Date’ in the form of a boarding pass, with the wedding dates and a pin indicating Napa Valley as the destination. In other words, consider your Labor Day Weekend 2016 plans made. We also received a website address to keep us informed of up-to-date wedding details. Did I mention that a Mad Men in Napa logo had been developed with the silhouette of two men holding wine looking out at vineyards? The grooms are fanatics of the 1960s and Mad Men (the TV show depicting the lives of advertising executives on Madison Avenue in the 60s) and even own pieces of furniture from the set like Don Draper’s office couch and Roger Sterling’s cocktail table. You already know they love wine, hence…a Mad Men in Napa wedding it would be!
In June, guests received another box full of wine corks (the Save the Date also came in a box with wine corks and a corkscrew), a Mad Men in Napa Game, and more wedding details. My daughter commented “They must like wine” to which I answered “How did you guess?” (By the way, Ceci New York designed each part of the amazing custom invitations that you see below). I planned my 1960s outfits and asked Paul to approve my Day One outfit. He asked me if I had the Jackie O glasses to match. I told him I would try to find some…
In July, we received a tube with some parchment paper: in lieu of gifts, all 180 guests were asked to fill a scrapbook page with a message, a memory, advice, something meaningful, for the grooms. We had homework, but I knew what I would send in right away. I had made a scrapbook from our London days and so I copied and submitted the page with all of the theater stubs. My husband submitted his favorite poem.
And so, on September 2nd, we arrived in Calistoga to begin Day One of Mad Men in Napa. The first activity was a wine-blending competition held at the Franciscan Estate in St. Helena. Guests were put into Mad Men character teams like Team Roger, Don, and Megan. Each team had a variety of red wines, pipettes, funnels, and colored pencils. We had to come up with a blend, bottle it, and label it with a name. Our team came up with Lucky Strike ‘The Perfect Blend’ and we won the smoothest wine category. As each team pitched their ‘wine and reason’ to the grooms, guests enjoyed a cheese board and wine.
The second activity was an appetizer cooking class and a cocktail making class at The Culinary Institute of America at Greystone. This time we were Team Fleishmann’s, as in the mayonnaise. Chefs taught us how to make 1960s appetizers like onion dip, deviled eggs, ambrosia salad, and pigs-in-a-blanket. We all wore aprons and Mad Men chef’s hats. Then guests had a cocktail making class where we learned how to make Manhattans and Old Fashioneds. An elegant dinner and family speeches followed in the wine cellar of the Culinary Institute with Baked Alaska (what else) for dessert.
The wedding ceremony took place on Day Two, at the Calistoga Ranch as the sun was setting. The chuppa was elegantly decorated (by Fleurs de France) with white flowers and stood against the vineyard. Naturally, the grooms walked in down the aisle between the vineyard rows! A reading about Obergefell vs Hodges and the history of rights in America set the stage for family and friends to read poems and share memories before the vows were made. Paul’s niece beautifully sang Etta James’ very fitting ‘At Last’. The ceremony ended with the breaking of a glass and the grooms blending Israeli and Greek wine to symbolically represent their union, in a cup presented to them by Eliav’s family. And, they took their first selfie together under the chuppa, as a married couple!
After the ceremony, guests posed for photos and enjoyed champagne at the reception. The grooms drove a 1965 Pontiac LeMans Convertible to the elegant wedding dinner site on the lawn next to Lommel Lake. We all ogled over the wedding cake, which was layers of cheese wheels with a 3D printed cake topper of the grooms, created at doob‘s digital studios in New York City. The likeness was uncanny.
We found our seats at one of two long tables set for 90 guests each. The tables were exquisitely decorated with purple, green, and white floral arrangements and succulents. Each guest had a menu indicating the salad, starters, main entrees, and dessert, with accompanying wines for each course. As the sun set, we enjoyed the most delicious food, wine, impeccable service, and company, with candles lighting up the night and the milky way visible above us.
When dinner was over, we walked the short distance to the Wine Cave where dessert, coffee, a Whisky Bar, and dancing awaited. After the grooms’ first dance to ‘Can’t Take My Eyes Off of You’, we danced to ‘Thriller’, ‘I’ve Got a Feeling’, ‘It’s Raining Men’, and ended with ‘Last Dance’. What a magical night!
Day Three, we had to return home, but the remaining guests were treated to a champagne tour and brunch at Domain Chandon which included a doughnut machine, a crepe table, fresh prosciutto, seafood and sushi tables, and frozen whipped nutmeg puffs in liquid nitrogen as coffee toppings.
You should also know that the grooms, along with their wedding planners Cole Drake Events, thought of everything: buses took guests from their hotels to all of the wedding venues and brought them back. Every part of each meal had an accompanying wine. Open bars served whatever you ordered. Multiple photographers and videographers recorded each event. A drone took a group photo at the Culinary Institute. All programs, menus, napkins and bottled water had the Mad Men in Napa logo on them. The caterers perfectly attended to allergies and food preferences. Golf carts shuttled guests as required. Pashmina shawls, heel protectors, and flip-flops were provided for the outdoor dinner and for after dancing. Every need and want was met and it all seemed effortless. Guests were treated like royalty.
We felt very very special to be invited to this celebration of long-lasting love, this blending of cultures and friends. And, we wish the grooms a continued lifetime of love, laughter, and adventures together…Mazel Tov!
(Photo of the LSE friends, grooms in the car and the brunch buffet were taken by other wedding guests and used with permission)
It’s the first day of September and, in Ontario, it’s still peach season! You can find peaches in the grocery stores and at farmers’ markets. And, they are delicious.
For the last three weeks, I’ve made a Peach Crumble every week because I can only eat peaches cooked. My family has been enjoying this recipe, too. We seem to eat it for breakfast or snack or dessert.
Last summer, I shared a recipe for Peach and Strawberry Crumble. You can read that post to understand the difference between crumbles, crisps, and cobblers. Personally, I love oatmeal, so I go for the crumbles.
This summer, I went for a straight peach crumble, and I made it in a 9 by 13 inch pan. If you want to make this in a smaller pan, go ahead. Just make sure the crumble doesn’t go past the top of the pan.
You can serve this with ice cream, cream, or milk. I use the latter if I want to have the crumble for breakfast. Go ahead, live a little! Continue reading →
It’s summer and wearing white jeans seems, well, so obvious. But, this wasn’t the case for me until last summer. I used to think white jeans were impractical, meaning hard to keep clean and just too ‘fancy’ for every day wear.
Well, I was wrong because I’ve practically lived in white jeans for the past two summers. Here are a few reasons why:
White jeans just spell summer. What comes to mind are photos of people boating and walking along the beach, wearing white jeans with navy tops, striped tops, boat shoes, running shoes, etc. You get the picture.
Note that when I say white jeans, I mean white jeans, not white pants. What I like about white denim is that it’s thicker than linen or other cotton pants, giving the pants a sturdier feel. You don’t have to worry about ripping or snagging the jeans because of their thicker material. Plus, you don’t have to worry about them being as delicate or as see-through as linen or thin cotton pants.