St. Patrick’s Day Candy Bar

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St. Patrick’s Day is tomorrow and while I rarely miss an opportunity to get a little festive around a holiday, this one seemed to sneak up on me. I didn’t have time to host a cocktail party with Irish libations or bake my Irish soda break scones with sea salt whisky butter, but I did have time to set out a small St. Patrick’s Day candy bar for a few friends that I had over this past weekend. I filled one bowl with gummy lip candy and a sign reading “kiss me, I’m Irish.” In another bowl, I placed a few chocolate coins with the label, “pot of gold” and I filled the third bowl with sour rainbow candy and a sign reading, “follow rainbows.” Here’s what you’ll need to make your own:

Supplies:
Gummy Lips 
Sour Rainbows
Chocolate coins
Construction Paper
Circle hole punch
Label Maker
Tooth picks
3 bowls

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Succulent Pumpkin Vase

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Happy (almost) Halloween! If you’re looking for a way to keep those pumpkins around past Saturday night, try turning them into a succulent pumpkin vase. It’s super easy and looks adorable.

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You’ll Need:
a pumpkin
a knife and spoon
succulents
cactus soil
saran wrap

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Steps:
1. Begin by cutting a circle around the stem on the top of your pumpkin.

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2. Remove the top and begin scooping out the innards with your spoon (save the seeds and toast them for a snack).

3. Once the pumpkin guts are fully removed, place saran wrap along the inside walls of the pumpkin.

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4. Fill the inside of your pumpkin 3/4 to the top with cactus soil.

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5. Decide where you want to place your succulents and plant them in the soil.

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Hallie’s Autumn 2015 Mix Tape

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Autumn is in full swing. The sun is setting over the horizon earlier in the evening, warm blankets are finding their way out of storage as the cool winds blow through the leaves that are changing from green to shades of red, yellow and orange. Tobacco and leather scented candles fill the air with a comforting and familiar aroma, red wine and whiskey are shared with loved ones as warmth is found in the essential fall uniform: over-sized sweaters and boyfriend jeans. This is autumn to me. Everything about the season pleases my senses. As I slip into my usual routine of baking pumpkin chocolate chip cookies, carving jack-o-laterns, and snuggling up with my love, my home will be filled with tunes that are calming, mellow, and ostensibly haunting. Check out my autumn mix tape and let me know what you’ll be listening to in the comment section below.

 

“Morning” by Beck
“Small Things” by Ben Howard
“Fallingforyou” by The 1975
“From Eden” by Hozier
“Where Are You Now” by Mumford & Sons
“Paint” by The Paper Kites
“Re: Stacks” by Bon Iver
“Georgia” by Vance Joy
“All the Time” by Bahamas
“Gold” by Chet Faker
“Waiting Game” by Banks
“Red Dust” by James Vincent McMorrow
“The Last Day” by Moby
“Angels” by The XX

 

 

 

 

 

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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A Vintage Holiday Cocktail

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I first sampled this cocktail one snowy evening at Lula Cafe in Chicago.   When I asked for something warming and unusual to melt the cold, the barman channeled old-school British mixology and served me a Hanky Panky.  This vintage cocktail was invented in the early 1900s by a woman bartender called Ada Coleman at the Savoy Hotel in London.  One evening, her regular customer the actor Charles Hawtrey asked for “something with a bit of punch in it.”  Ada set to work crafting a variation on the classic gin martini using a secret ingredient, Fernet Branca (a beloved digestif that we’ve written about before)!  He downed the drink immediately and exclaimed it was “the real Hanky Panky.”  A classic was born.

Her concoction feels holiday-apropos  to me; maybe it’s the memory of that winter night, the subtly green-pine essence lent by the gin, or the celebratory coupé we sip it from.  Above all it is a sophisticated cocktail to make for that special guest passing by the house this season.  Ah, but it’s cold outside!  Time for the real Hanky Panky.

Recipe: The Hanky Panky Cocktail

Ingredients:
1.5 ounces Hendrick’s Gin
1.5 ounces Cocchi Americano (or other sweet italian vermouth such as Carpano Antica; add more vermouth for a softer and lighter result)
2 dashes Fernet Branca
2 drops Orange Bitters
1 twisted sliver of orange peel

Steps:
1.  Place a handful of ice into a mixing glass.
2. Pour ingredients over ice and stir together with a spoon.
3.  Strain into a 4 ounce coupé.
4.  Garnish by twisting a sliver of orange peel over the coupé, extracting a spray of oils. Enjoy fireside.

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Ingredients.

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Stir.

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Strain.

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Enjoy Fireside.

Coming Home & Thanksgiving Traditions

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This past weekend I traveled from London to Michigan to spend time at home with my parents.  They are the best at giving a warm welcome.  The temperature outside was unusually cold, lots of icy scenes and massive falling snowflakes, so we found ourselves wanting to hibernate in their cozy home most of the weekend.  So relaxing!  I relished in the company of extended family and even ran into some dear old friends when we ventured downtown to my favorite cafe, Populace. It was a wonderful pre-thanksgiving visit.

This time of year most of us feel a desire to connect with family, and probably the strongest of all holiday traditions is just to be together.   Often this entails making a kind of pilgrimage back to one’s hometown which can be truly transporting.  For some it can be magical, marveling how familiar people and places have changed over time, celebrating that change and fondly remembering how things used to be.  For others this effort can be draining or stressful – you feel all types of emotions, socializing in tight quarters with people that may really know how to push your buttons!  This weekend I felt the former, fully nostalgic and blissful, recalling memories and scents and the way things looked and felt.  I soaked in the voices of my family, their tendencies and habits, thankful for the love and beauty I found all around me.

I was in the mood to reminisce.  To warm us up one afternoon, mom and I fished out her beautiful china and made a proper English tea.  Dad snapped away on his camera and I took notes as we recounted some of our favorite thanksgiving traditions.

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My mother’s only teapot, from her wedding china set that her grandmother gifted her.

1.  Setting the table.  At my mom’s home, this is often done a couple days in advance.  She uses natural elements like fruits, nuts, leaves, flowers and gourds.  Usually there is special wheat china we use, which is a nod to her own grandmother Lenora who was a collector of wonderfully ornate china sets (she had over 40!) in her lifetime.  Lenora had a real passion for setting a beautiful table for her family to gather around, and this has become an important tradition now for my mom, sister and I.  Here are a few images of the table settings we’ve concocted over the years:

thanksgiving table setting using pewter and mandarin at brookes apartment

My thanksgiving table setting using clementines (with leaves), pewter chargers and vintage glassware.

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My mom’s classic place setting, complete with her wheat china, gold accents, braided straw chargers and name tag.

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A modern green & gold thanksgiving table, one of my first times hosting when we lived in NYC.

2.  Planning the Thanksgiving Menu.  Our menu always includes roasted turkey (of course!), white and sweet potato dishes, homemade cranberry sauce (usually more like a compote or chutney), dressing / stuffing and gravy made from scratch using an old family recipe, squash, brussels sprouts, and homemade pumpkin pie with real whipped cream.  We serve red wine and hot mulled apple cider to drink.  Mom’s number one tip is to sort the menu in time order (shortest to longest prep), then work backwards.  We make ahead things like the cranberry sauce, squash and pies the night before.

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My mother’s traditional thanksgiving table.

3.  Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade.  The moment we wake up on thanksgiving day, mom puts on a pot of fresh coffee, pulls cinnamon buns out of the oven, and we switch on the parade to watch the spectacular floats bobbing down Broadway.  NYC has always been a special feature in our hearts and home.  And just ask my dad, we found through experience that the best place to view the parade is from the comfort of your own living room!

4.  Bringing Home our Christmas Tree.  Growing up, I knew of no such thing as Black Friday.   The day after Thanksgiving we would bundle up in our warmest clothes, borrow grandpa’s truck, and all four of us (plus doggy!) would trek out to a Christmas Tree farm forest and cut down our own tree.  The hunt was quite serious and took many hours – it had to be the perfect shape, color, smell!  Once we agreed on one, Dad would hop down underneath the tree with his saw and we would catch it as it fell.  These days, we have a false tree (saving the environment we hope), but we keep the tradition of setting up & decorating the tree in our home on the day after thanksgiving.

5.  Leftover Turkey Sandwiches.  Nothing beat mom’s hearty leftover turkey sandwiches, dressed up with tangy mayo on whole grain bread.  I never tired of eating them between rounds of reading, watching holiday movies and playing board games with the family all weekend.

What traditions does your family keep for thanksgiving?  Do you invent new ones as time passes, or stay traditional?  One new tradition mom wants to start this year is to write out what you are grateful for on cards.  I can’t wait to hear what you’re planning.

Photo credits: tea photos by John Bunnell

Thanksgiving Holiday Inspiration

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Can you believe that Thanksgiving is only two weeks away? As we all dive head first into planning for our Thanksgiving holidays, I thought I would put together a moodboard for inspiration! This year I am dreaming of cozy fireplaces, cabin getaways, and family gatherings set at simple tablescapes in palettes of white, green, orange and gold.

 

Thanksgiving Inspiration

 

Candle-lit wooden farm tables, glittering crystal glassware, heart-warming cocktails, and wreaths of pinecones and citrus. Petit bouquets of herbs as placecards, and rich, deep burgundy accents of cranberry, pomegranate, and apple.

 

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Autumnal palettes of color: the red/orange ombre of the changing leaves, creamy white pumpkins, and the muted greens of sage, rosemary and thyme. Simmering seasonal spices, warm pies, and flax hued linens. What do you think? Let’s start planning…

Hosting an Outdoor Halloween Movie

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There is very little that I love more than an outdoor movie. Growing up in Chicago I would attend the movies in Grant Park with friends and family and when I moved to New York I became a regular at the Bryant Park screenings. Now that I’m an Angeleno, I can often be found at the Cinespia summer screenings at the Hollywood Forever Cemetery. I enjoy an outdoor flick so much in fact, that when I moved across the country to the land of eternal summer, one of my first big purchases was an outdoor movie screen and projector. Now I host outdoor movies for my friends several times a year (mainly around awards season and in the summer) but my favorite screening of the year is my annual outdoor scary movie. The week leading up to Halloween, I buy out the candy section of Target and have everyone over for a night of frights. Last year we watched Alfred Hitchcock’s “The Birds” and I had nightmares for weeks so this year I opted for Disney’s “Hocus Pocus.” Use my guide below to host your own outdoor movie night!

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1. Pick a flick
Choosing a movie can be tough! Consider who your audience will be. Will children be present? If so, opt for family friendly flicks like “Casper,” “Hocus Pocus,” “It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown,” or “Beetlejuice.” If you are hosting an adult crowd, the scarier the better!

2. Invite your friends
Compile a guest list and invite your nearest and dearest. Make sure to tell them to bring blankets and lawn chairs and to dress appropriately for the evening weather.

3. Rent a projector
If you plan on hosting more than one outdoor movie a year like I do, it might be worth investing in a projector. However, they can be rather pricey so renting your equipment is a great option. Once you have your projector, make sure to do a test run to ensure that  you have all of the right cables / connective equipment and don’t forget that you will need speakers.

4. Hang your screen
A white sheet will always work, but a canvas painter’s drop cloth is an awesome alternative. It’s heavier, stiffer and less likely to fly around if a strong wind blows in. Check your local hardware store for a white one and pick up clamps to secure it in place.

5. Serve up treats!
Movie treats are half of the viewing experience! During Halloween I set up a candy bar complete with black striped and orange chevron favor bags that guests can use to collect their favorite sweets to take with them to the seating area. I also use giant tins to house mounds of popcorn that can be passed around during the movie. I pop the corn on the stove and add different seasonings to each container. I usually opt for the following three flavors: olive oil, sea salt, fresh shaved Parmesan and rosemary popcorn; homemade kettle corn; and truffle popcorn. And since popcorn will make guests thirsty, I like to offer nice, cold pumpkin ales.

 

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Chicken Lollipops

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I spent one recent afternoon perusing the offerings at the beautiful food shop Daylesford Organic.  As I debated over which meat to roast for dinner, the charismatic butcher and I struck up a conversation.  We talked about our mutual love of Sunday roasts. I confessed how frequently I made a whole chicken, but that the carcass and wings eluded me – there was always so much leftover slivers of meat stuck to the bone and it seemed like a waste!

Fascinated, I watched as he guided me through an impromptu lesson right there on the butcher’s block, teaching me how to make his signature “chicken lollipops” from the wings.   In an attempt to reduce waste, my savvy butcher had innovated an appetizer that was a hit at parties, beloved by kids and adults alike!  Secondly he recommended I carve the meat off the freshly roasted chicken to serve, then simmer the carcass to generate a batch of homemade bone broth for sipping and cooking through the week.  The Hemsley sisters recommend this, too!  I am smitten.

These are boneless wings in the shape of a lollipop. One bird yields up to four bite-sized pieces.  They’re a great prelude to the main course and will take the edge off your guest’s hunger while they wait for the bird to be carved.

Chicken Lollipops

Ingredients:
Both wings from a whole, free-range, organic chicken
1 teaspoon each of salt, pepper + paprika
kitchen tools: a boning knife, a bag, aluminum foil, baking sheet or dish

Steps:
1.  Rinse and thoroughly dry your whole chicken.  Identify the shoulder joint of the chicken (it helps to move its arm a bit back and forth).  Insert a boning knife into the middle of the joint, cutting the soft cartilage (between the bones) to separate the arm from the body at the shoulder.

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2.  Separate the upper arm from the lower arm at the elbow.  Again, it helps to “bend” the elbow to see the joint action so you know where to carve.  Set aside the lower arm (hand and forearm) for your broth.  We will work with the upper arm.

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3.  With the largest bony end (the shoulder bone) facing upward, use your knife to cut away the white ligaments, any skin and connecting tissue in a perimeter around the bone. Slide the knife slightly up the bone to loosen the meat, exposing the bone itself.

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4.  Holding the the base of the bone in your left fist, squeeze your thumb and first finger together around the area that you exposed.  With your right palm, press down on the meat-end as you continue to squeeze with your left first, which will “slip” the meat up the bone, and leave you with a mound of meat in the shape of a lollipop (or little tree).   You can coax and shape the meat with your hand. Voila, a lollipop!

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5.  If you’re feeling confident, you may repeat these actions on the lower arm.  It’s a bit trickier, because you must remove the tinier of the two bones so you are left with only one “lollipop stem.”  Otherwise just reserve the lower arm sections to use in the bone broth.

6.  Fill a small bag with your seasoning mix (I used an empty coffee bag I had saved, but a lunch sack, ziplock or plastic grocery bag will do).  I listed a very basic one, but any seasoning you love will work – piri piri, herbs, get creative! Place the lollipops inside, and shake to coat.

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7.  Place the lollipops in a small baking dish or baking sheet lined with aluminum foil.  Bake in the oven at 150 degrees Celsius for 20-25 minutes (ideally alongside your whole roasting chicken).  Devour while warm.