Pass the Champagne!

Champagne Flutes

Happy New Year’s Eve!  As we ready ourselves for tonight’s festivities, let’s agree that a glass of Champagne is on the menu tonight.  Bubbly is certainly my tipple of choice as we bid adieu to 2014 and whole-heartedly welcome a new year.  How about you – will you partake?

Champagne’s golden sparkle and audible pop lend to its reputation as a purely celebratory wine, but in fact it is super versatile and pairs well with almost any cuisine.  I’ve long been a fan of Champagne and I recommend it for any event, even the average night in!  It took a few years of drinking sparkling wines to wrap my head around how & when they could be enjoyed, to learn what I liked, and to incorporate them into my life (beyond the token special occasion).   Finding value can be a fun game to play, since admittedly Champagne can come with an inflated price tag. I’ve witnessed many a wine-loving friend try to spot the mis-price on a NYC restaurant list!  But not all bubbly is so precious, as evidenced in this article.   Beyond the namesake French region of Champagne, you can find excellent value in sparkling wines from all over the world: Spain (cava), Italy (prosecco, spumante and frizzante), Germany (sekt), California, Washington, and Australia among others. Check the label for “méthode Champenoise”, “méthode traditionelle” or “fermented in this bottle” for a wine that will best emulate the classic.  There are many options on the market that can turn this drink into an everyday luxury.

Over the years I’ve figured out that my favorite sparklers do hail from the namesake Champagne region of France.  I prefer ones with toasty brioche notes (versus, say, fruit or citrus).  A glass of champagne is the best apertif for me – it’s refreshing, elegant and whets your palate for whatever meal you’re about to enjoy.  Here is a short list of my top bottles and tasting notes:

1.  Bollinger La Grande Annee Brut (here) – our wedding day Champagne, toasty, round and complex
2.  Krug Grande Cuvée Brut NV (here) – creamy, toasty perfection
3.  Laurent Perrier Cuvee Rose Brut NV (here) – an elegant salmon-pink rosé, the color of ballet slippers
4.  Salon Cuvee ‘S’ Le Mesnil Blanc de Blancs (here) – a savvy gent introduced me to this small producer
5.  Henriot “Souverain” Brut (here) – roasted hazelnut, brioche, smoke
6.  Gruet Blanc de Noirs (here) – made in the USA, creamy-vanilla notes, superb value

Finally, I’ve rounded up few links below to pique your interest. Perhaps I can turn you into champagne lovers, too:

1.  Did you know Sir Winston Churchill was mad for Champagne?! His motivation to his troops in WWII was, “Remember, gentlemen, it’s not just France we are fighting for, it’s Champagne!” He was such a massive fan that Pol Roger named their prestige label after him, Cuvée Sir Winston Churchill.
2.  Champagne Saber time: master a daring way to open a bottle
3.  WSJ’s Guide to Champagne Cocktails
4.  NYT Wine School: Champagne
5.  The Guardian solves the great debate: which glass should we drink it from?
6.  Food and Wine’s Top 10 Affordable Champagnes

Cheers, Everyone!

Drinks after the Party

DIY: New Year’s Eve Confetti Poppers

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3… 2… 1… Happy New Year! The countdown to 2015 is drawing near and we have the easiest DIY confetti poppers to help you ring in the new year with a bang!

One of my fondest NYE memories occurred in 1994 when my sister and I spent hours at my grandmother’s house cutting scraps of paper into confetti to throw into the air when the clock struck midnight. We felt so much joy sharing that messy moment with her and I look forward to recreating the celebratory sentiment this year in her memory.

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You’ll Need: 
Cake Push Pop Containers (available at most craft stores)
construction paper (you can also add tinsel)
scissors and/or a hole puncher

Steps: 
1. Cut paper into small pieces. You can also use a hole punch if you prefer.
2. Fill push pop containers with as much confetti as you can squeeze into it.
3. Place  the top to the push pop back on the container.
4. When 2015 has arrived, push on the stick quickly and firmly so that the confetti launches into the air… then kiss the one you love!

 

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Book Smart: Health + Fitness

Book Smart: Health + Fitness

Just like every other person on the planet, I tend to make health/fitness related new years resolutions I can’t actually keep. Most years, I simply set unrealistic goals for myself (ie: go to the gym every single day) and always ended up throwing in the towel the moment I felt overwhelmed or burdened by my new (and clearly overzealous) fitness regimen. Other years, I made resolutions that didn’t even make sense for me or my lifestyle. For example, I once resolved to stop eating out at restaurants and I crumbled after a record length of approximately 5 hours. Given how much I travel and how much I love trying new restaurants, I should have known better!

This year, instead of setting unachievable goals, I am vowing to start the journey to my healthiest self by learning about how to lead a healthier lifestyle. Knowledge is power, and if I know more about how to set myself on the right track, I believe it will happen more naturally than using the unsuccessful tactics I have tried in the past! To begin my health education, I invested in The Body Book and The Art of Eating Well (I consider cookbooks a great educational resource) and I highly recommend them both! If you are like me and are looking to kick-start your health and wellness education in the new year, here are a few more top rated books that I can’t wait to get my hands on:

1. The Body Book 
2. The Art of Eating Well: Hemsley Hemsley
3. The Beauty Detox Solution
4. 10-Day Green Smoothie Cleanse
5. Make Your Own Rules Diet
6. Thug Kitchen: The Official Cookbook

Do you have any favorite books that have helped you reach your fitness goals? We would love to hear about them in the comments section below!

Link Love – Holiday Edition 2014

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1.  We are obsessed with Serial, a brilliantly edited & narrated 12-episode NPR podcast that tells the true story of an unsolved murder from 1999.  You need to listen up because this podcast has gone viral – even SNL did a hilarious holiday spoof of it!  So who killed Hae??

2.  Lonny Mag (our favorite online magazine for home & design) has a smart list of home-organization resolutions for 2015.

3.  On pursuing a dream… and taking that leap even if you’re not certain where it will take you.

4.  One of our most beloved street photographers demonstrates on video what it’s really like to spend a full day in heels.  C’est difficile, non?!

5. I’ve had my eye on this young Brooklyn-based wood worker all year.  Her current work is geometrical and stunning.

6.  Teach yourself how to do something new and creative in 2015!  Learn photography,  hand lettering, or how to make a logo through online classes on this new platform Skillshare.

7.  We had a good laugh at these puns on this clever illustrator’s Tumblr.

8.  Geek out over these computer animations that help researchers see and understand miniature processes of our cells.

9.  What’s sup luv? A gifting service that deals solely in all things nutritional, which speaks to that new year’s resolution on everyone’s list this time of year: get fit / get healthy / get happy.

Christmas Sugar Cookies

Holiday Sugar Cookies

Merry Christmas Eve everyone! Making my mothers famous sugar cookies on the eve of Christmas eve is a long-standing tradition in the Bunnell household. We pour some wine, turn on some holiday music and settle in to attempt some Martha Stewart-style cookie decorating. In years past, we have used every frosting color under the sun, but this year we went with a monochromatic white theme and the result was lovely (and delicious!). Making these cookies is a serious time commitment, but I promise it is totally worth it! I recommend making the dough and baking the cookies the night before you decorate them to make the process more manageable. I look forward to our baking tradition every year, and I guarantee that after trying this recipe you will want to start a cookie-making tradition of your own!

Sugar Cookie Dough

Yields: 2 Dozen Cookies

2/3 c. shortening
3/4 c. sugar
1 t. vanilla
1 egg
4 t. milk
2 c. sifted flour
1 1/2 t. baking powder
1/4 t. salt

1. Cream shortening, sugar, vanilla. Add egg, beat until fluffy. Stir in milk. Blend in dry ingredients.
2. Divide dough in half and chill for 1 hour.
3. Roll dough out onto lightly floured surface and cut into shapes.
4. Bake at 375 degrees for 6-8 minutes.
5. Transfer cookies to a cooling rack and cool completely before decorating.

Baked Sugar Cookies

Freshly baked sugar cookies.

Sugar Cookies Baked

We use our favorite holiday cookie cutters: stars, angels, ornaments, trees, mittens, and snowmen!

Easy Dipping Icing

3 tblsp. granulated sugar
2 tblsp. milk
2 tblsp. margarine
1 1/3 cup powdered sugar
1/2 tsp. vanilla extract or almond extract

1. In a microwave safe bowl, heat the sugar and the margarine for 2 minutes.
2. With a wire wisk, add the flavoring and powdered sugar (if you would like to color the icing, add the food coloring here). *You will work with this icing warm, so use immediately.
3. Dip the tops of the cookies in the icing, letting some of the icing drip off, then place on wax paper to dry.

Tips: The icing should stick to the cookies and not completely run off the top, so you can adjust the amount of sugar or milk as needed. Before you dip the cookies you may have to stir the icing to break the skin atop the icing, allowing it to stick to the cookies. If the icing gets too cool, you may have to microwave it for a few seconds or add a few drops of milk. 

Sugar Cookie Easy Dip Icing

Stir the icing while warm before dipping cookies.

Sugar Cookie Easy Dip Icing

Dip the tops of the cookies in the icing – letting some of the icing drip off.

Sugar Cookie Easy Dip Icing

Icing will dry to create a smooth, glazed surface – perfect for decorating!

Sugar Cookie Easy Dip Icing

Place the cookies on wax paper to dry completely before decorating.

Meringue Powder Buttercream (Piping Frosting)

1/3 cup water
3 tblsp. meringue powder
1/2 cup shortening
5 1/2 cups powdered sugar
1 tsp. vanilla extract (use a clear version for pure white icing)
1/4 tsp. almond extract

1. Beat water and meringue powder in a mixer until stiff peaks form.
2. Add shortening, sugar and extracts and whip for 3 minutes.
3. Store well covered, or use immediately.

Sugar Cookie Piping Frosting

Prepare the piping bags, then fill each with the meringue buttercream frosting using a spatula.

Cookie Decorating Tools

Pastry/Piping Bags
Piping/Decorating Tips
Pastry Bag Couplers
Food Coloring (for piping icing)
Sanding Sugars
Sprinkles
Dragees
Edible Pearls

Sugar Cookie Decorating Tools

We use an assortment of decorating sugars, sprinkles, edible pearls, glitters and dragees for our cookies.

Sugar Cookie Decorating

Pipe each cookie, then add sprinkles as desired!

Sugar Cookie Decorating

Be sure to add dragees when frosting is not completely dry so they don’t fall off!

Sugar Cookie Decorating

Et Voila! You have sugar cookies that are beautiful and delicious – just in time for Christmas Eve!

A Snowy Engagement

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It is hard to believe that already four years have passed since Stephen and I got engaged.  We were New Yorkers then, and he planned a winter weekend away for the two of us in Montreal days before Christmas.   Early Saturday morning he left to get us coffee, and minutes later a porter knocked on the hotel door with clue #1 in hand.  This developed into an elaborate scavenger hunt through the city that ended with a hike to the hilltop of Mont Royal Park where Steve was waiting.  It was a beautiful winter day, and he had arranged a stealth photographer to hide in the woods and capture the whole incredibly romantic scene.  I remember there were families sledding in the park that morning, and as the snow fell around us I felt I had stepped inside a Norman Rockwell painting.

Unbeknownst to me, Steve had flown both his and my immediate family into the city to meet us.  They were the final surprise waiting for us back at brunch with champagne in hand.  It’s incredible how well we know each other, that in a moment like this we would just want to be surrounded by our little family and that was such an important element.  Steve – I love you to the moon! May you all be filled with peace and love, and may you make beautiful memories with your friends and family this holiday.

 

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Images courtesy of our friend, the insanely talented Montreal-based photographer Vadim Daniel

Christmas Mix Tape

mix tape

Is it just me or did this holiday season fly by in the blink of an eye? With the hustle and bustle of work and travel, I have hardly had time to get into the spirit. Since Christmas is only a few days away, I made sure to spend my weekend doing the things that make me feel the most festive. On Saturday I took food down to the homeless men and women on skid row and dropped off some toys for a family I sponsored this year. On Sunday I baked Christmas cookies for hours and put together the perfect mix tape to make me feel warm inside as I danced around the kitchen. Check it out here and make sure to follow us on Spotify!

Friday Link Love

Link Love

Happy Friday everyone! Enjoy our favorite links from around the web this week!

1. How to wrap the perfect bows on your holiday packages…(this is how they tie ribbon around boxes at Hermès)!

2. 15 beautiful ways to use Instagram’s 5 new photo filters.

3. With the holidays upon us, we will all need this warming winter detox to start the new year off right!

4. For a good laugh, watch Emily Blunt and John Krasinkski prank Jimmy Kimmel.

5. A few tips on putting together a beautiful home library.

6. Just in time for holiday travel: how to pack your suitcase to avoid wrinkled clothing!

7. Seven secrets to decorating like the French.

8. Rare photos from 1966 showing the NYC subway in full color.

9. NYT Graphic: Remembering of some of the Hollywood gifts that you never return.

A Glimpse…Moving House!

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Hey there everyone! I hope your week has been wonderful and that you’re getting ready to wind down into holiday mode.  Next week is baby Jesus’s birthday, as my tradesman put it, so things should slow down a bit while we all celebrate!  My story is a bit different because we are moving house (Brit-speak for plain old moving) this Saturday and I’ve been cleaning / painting / organizing / packing like a maniac these past few days.  Forget Christmas shopping! Gotta get this family into our mews-home apartment in one piece before jetting off to the holiday gatherings.

Pictured above is the view out of the master bedroom, and below is the cobblestone approach to our apartment (it’s the brick one, straight ahead).  We are back-to-back with a church that has a sweet garden we can peek into.  This space is a true fixer-upper, so it has been hard work, but I really love it.

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I’ve already moved house 4 times this year, so this will be number 5.   It’s a stressful process (see the Holmes and Rahe Stress Scale as evidence) and in times of stress, I go back to certain rituals to keep me calm and to give perspective.  One of the best rituals I’ve adopted is smudging, which is a cleansing technique from the native North American tradition.  Have you heard of it? Smudging is done by lighting a bit of dried white sage, dampening the flame so the the embers are burning, and allowing the smoke to billow.  You then walk slowly through the new space, room by room, pausing in the corners and allowing the smoke to hover along the way.  The purpose is to cleanse the new environment of any past energies (negative or positive) and restore balance.  It is like pressing reset, energetically. I learned this first from my friend Jo, and then again when I began teaching yoga since each teacher would smudge the room to prepare for their class.   The act of walking and smudging is peaceful and when I did it this week, I instantly felt grounded and fresh in the space.  I was ready to make it our new home.

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Through all the madness of moving, we managed to make it to a holiday party where the hosts had placed different props for everyone at the dinner table.  I donned these reindeer antlers for about 1 hour, which was so fun until the bells drove me to the point of insanity.  Try socializing with jingle-bell reindeer antlers on your head as you nod, listen, and engage in conversation.  That $#*% gets noisy real fast.

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Carrying on in the holiday spirit, Steve invited me to the Michael Bublé concert here in London which was fully fabulous and old-school.  I loved the big band, all the brass instruments, his banter, and his croon.  There is always a little Bublé on the stereo at my parent’s home this time of year, along with the vintage voices of Dean Martin, Fred Astaire, Mel Torme, and Bing Crosby.

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Looking out over London from the London Business School library in Regent Park.  I’ve said it before, but the light here is stunning…

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Please stay tuned after the holidays for the before & after images of my London apartment, a London apartment hunting guide, and a special feature on simple DIY upgrades I’ve learned that can make all the difference in your home!