Friday, April 29, 2011

Gin and spice and everything nice

It has been an exciting and eventful week for us. There are no real plans on the horizon this weekend, and I am beyond thrilled. I hope my future contains a long walk through the farmer's market, a belated viewing of Jane Eyre and maybe, just maybe, one of these delightful gin cocktails.

Peter created this based on a fun looking non-alcoholic drink in the latest Bon Appetit. Smart man: gin improves almost everything.

Cucumber, mint and basil soda with gin
One serving

You will need:
2 oz. gin
5 oz. soda (or a combination of soda and tonic if you like you're drinks on the sweeter side)
4 thin slices English cucumber
6 leaves fresh basil
6 leaves fresh mint

Dump everything into a glass and stir. Add ice and mix around again. Cheers!

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Channeling Hadley

We read The Paris Wife this month for book club, and I absolutely devoured it. I can't stop think about Hadley and Ernest and their twisted, strange love story. I finished it last night and promptly plucked Men Without Women down from my shelf this morning as some companion reading. I think these are the stories Hemingway was working on toward the end of the novel.

Have you read this book? What was the last thing you you just couldn't put down?

1. The Paris Wife
2. Quiet Blush Dress
3. Men Without Women
4. Chopin - Etudes sheet music
5. Dusk Blue Tea Set
6. Jigger Lexington glass

Monday, April 25, 2011

36(ish) hours in Newport, RI

Day one: 

1:30 PM: Brick Alley Pub has a festive feel - the perfect place to grab a late lunch when you first arrive in Newport. Think fried calamari, fish sandwiches, big salads. The Red Parrot would also fit the bill nicely.

3:00 PM: Drive over to First Beach and start the Cliff Walk. The 3.5 mile trail is flat and easy, and you'll be rewarded with amazing views of the water on one side and giant mansions on the other.

5:00 PM: Take a spin on Ocean Drive and head over to Castle Hill Inn for a drink. This lovely inn is surrounded on all sides by water. The dining room is bright and pretty - if you're looking for something fancy, stick around for dinner.

Day two:

10:00 AM: Send those interested to the Tennis Hall of Fame. Three cheers for the Arthur Ashe exhibit! Send those not interested shopping along Bellevue Ave. Sara Campbell has darling party dresses and Sequin overflows with colorful, pretty jewelry. Our group may have walked away three bangles richer.

12:30 PM: Griswold Tavern is a cozy and inexpensive spot for lunch. Excellent clam chowder and fish and chips.

2:00 PM: You can't go to Newport without a mandatory visit to a mansion. The Breakers is the best one to hit up if you're only doing one. It's the most over the top - the scale alone is incredibly impressive. If you're looking for something slightly scaled back (though come on, they're still mansions!) try Rosecliff or the Elms.


5:00 PM: Retreat to the hotel for G&Ts. The Hyatt Regency on Goat Island had a very warm, fun atmosphere. Board games to play in the lobby, free snacks in the afternoon, and a bar that hotel guests actually use and enjoy. Highly recommended. 

7:00 PM: Tucker's has a wacky Bordello-theme going on with the decor, a delightfully attentive staff, and a fantastic French bistro menu. The foie gras is worth the moral dilemma. Also: seared sea scallops, spicy veal bolognese and the trio of Crescent Farm duck. 

9:30 PM: Indulge in a nightcap, of sorts, in the form of ice cream from Newport Creamery. The clientele can be slightly odd, but you really won't care when you are staring down a giant brownie covered with cookie dough chunk ice cream, caramel, hot fudge and whipped cream, will you?

Day three: 

11:00 AM: In the midst of Royal Wedding madness, it seems like a good time to relive the Stateside edition. In 1953 Jack and Jackie were married at St Mary's, a gorgeous church with large, pastel stained glass on every window and bright white stone covering the walls. 

12:30: Walk over to the wharf and into The Mooring for brunch. Start with the bag of doughnuts (lobster, crab and shrimp fritters). Scallop chowder and the seafood charcuterie plate round out an excellent feast. 

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Five years ago today

Five years ago today:
  • Two of my most wonderful friends came to visit me in Washington, D.C.
  • We celebrated a birthday with a fun dinner out (Happy, happy birthday Kate!!!).
  • We decided to pop into Garrett's for a quick drink.
  • Four hours later, we were still there.
  • I spied the most adorable curly haired guy. 
  • (He would say I was drawn to his dashing beard.)
  • Then I actually talked to him! 
  • I may have given him a completely heinous self-printed business card at the end of the night so that he could call me, you know, if he wanted to.
  • Walking out, Kate said, "I think this guy's going to be around for a while..."
  • She was right.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Book a fancy hotel stay for the cost of a night at Super 8

(Newport mansion!)

If we know each other in real life, chances are I've talked your ear off about my obsession with discount travel: the Travelzoo top 20 list, Kayak flight alerts, rental cars from Hotwire and my personal favorite, name-your-own price hotels on Priceline.

We are heading to Newport in a few days for a long weekend, and I've been bragging to anyone who will listen about the deal I scored ($55 a night at a 3 1/2 star Hyatt! Not that you asked...). I thought it might be fun to share some of the tips I've discovered after years of ruthless negotiations with William Shatner.

1. Research. People often hesitate to book using Priceline's name-your-own-price option because the hotel you wind up can be a bit of a mystery. I totally understand this fear, but there are a few ways around it.

First, do a standard hotel search on Priceline to see what hotels are available in the place you're visiting. In Newport, 46 hotels are listed. But if I adjust it to show only 3 1/2 star hotels, four are listed. If you look at them in map view, you can see what neighborhood they're in. This is helpful because one of the criteria you fill in while naming your price is neighborhood. If there's a hotel listed that you don't want to get, make sure you don't include that neighborhood in your bid.

2. Bid really low. Once you select the neighborhood and star level you want, you have to fill in your bid. Priceline will tempt you to bid high by telling you the median price for the criteria you entered (for Newport, 3 1/2 star hotels are $189). You might even think starting with $100 is too low. It's not. In fact, I typically start around $40. Depending on where you're heading, this may turn out to be too low, but you never know!

Typically, the first bid will be rejected. Unless you want to change your neighborhood or star level, you must wait 24 hours to bid again. I typically go up in increments of $5-10 dollars each day, depending on how quickly the trip is approaching. Occasionally, you will put in a bid that's pretty close to what a hotel will accept, and Priceline will let you know (for example, instead of the $75 you bid, a hotel will accept $83). You can complete the process then if you're okay with the price they offer, or wait another 24 hours to bid again.

3. Wait until the last minute. I don't have any insider knowledge, but this just seems like common sense: hotels should be more willing to give you a room at a very low rate if the date is fast approaching and they aren't booked. Unless there is some sort of major convention or sporting event taking place, you can be pretty confident that the area you're visiting will not run out of guest rooms. I like to start bidding about two weeks before vacation starts.

This does require a certain amount of flexibility, either with your price point or the destination. For our winter trip this year, I was trying to get a deal in Montreal, but they wouldn't accept a low enough bid. We ended up in Vermont instead! I don't mind this sort of travel planning, but realize it's not everyone's cup of tea.

4. For wedding travel, wait until after the block expires to book. When booking a hotel for a wedding, wait until two days after the block has expired. I've done this many times, and usually end up at the hotel all the other guests are at for a much cheaper rate because a bunch of unused rooms were released at the last minute. Not a fool proof plan, but it works more often than not!

5. Have a back-up. When I first started to dip my toe into Priceline, I felt very nervous that I wouldn't have anywhere to sleep on vacation. So, I booked at a hotel that had a very lenient cancellation policy (Marriott will usually let you cancel up until 5:00 PM on the day you're supposed to check-in). This helped ease my worries, and pushed me to make more aggressively low bids.

What about you guys -- any good tips and tricks for booking inexpensive travel? I could chat about this stuff all day long!

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Baby bibs (not an announcement!)

While I had my sewing machine out and buzzing away last week for my skirt, I decided to do a quick trial version of those cute bibs from Purl Soho. You know, for all those babies my friends are having (not me, seriously, not me!).

This next omission is going to do nothing to dissuade Peter or my family that I am not deep in the throws of baby fever, but seriously. So cute, right? Imagine a fat little neck in that bib!

Here's my pile of fabric for non-trial/very girly pink bibs. Yay!

I need some terry cloth for the backs - on this one I just used a piece of felt since I wasn't sure how it would come out. It could also be fun to try out some little embroidery on them, like baby's initials or something floral? I'll be sure to share when I have a few more completed!

Monday, April 18, 2011

Bagna Cauda

This weekend I was living it up like it was, umm...2006-ish?! That was probably the last time I enjoyed so many fun drinks and late evenings out in a row.

Yesterday called for an antidote in the form of bagna cauda and a giant platter of vegetables. I was in a very sleepy state and failed to take a photo until we were nearly done, but rest assured: there were many more vegetables consumed than the photo evidence above indicates.

Have you ever had this? I realized that the anchovies might be a turn off, but trust me - they totally melt away while cooking and you are left with this salty, buttery warm bath of delicious dip.

Bagna Cauda, adapted from Bon Appetit

You will need:
1/2 cup olive oil
2 tablespoons melted butter
1 large clove of garlic, chopped
6 anchovy fillets

Blend oil, butter, anchovies and garlic in processor until smooth. Transfer oil mixture to heavy medium saucepan. Cook over low heat 15 minutes, stirring, occasionally. (Sauce will separate.) Season with salt and pepper. 

Serve with assorted fresh vegetables (carrots, green beans, asparagus, radish, artichokes) and sliced bread. 

Friday, April 15, 2011

Oh my darling

Wishing a very happy birthday to my darling Peter!

We have friends coming into town to attend a fun NYC wedding* this weekend, so we celebrated just the two of us last night with a yummy dinner at Prime Meats. Everything was so good, but the steak tartare?! Omgosh. I even ate tongue!

 Cheers to a very fun Spring weekend, everybody! 

*Don't worry guys, I'm not wearing any of these :)

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Made it through in tact

I finished my skirt yesterday morning and then successfully wore it all day long! I was a little nervous that it would instantly shred into teeny tiny pieces or spontaneously combust while I sat at my desk, but have no fear! The skirt and I made it through in tact.

When the very sweet Brie encouraged me to take this on, she described it as a quick "win" project. So right! It's immensely satisfying to make something, and then get to wear it.

If you want to make your own (Do it! We can all be super cute Flirt Skirt girls!), visit Anna Maria Horner site's for the free tutorial

P.S.: I was really missing having roommates when I put this outfit together -- can I wear that bright blue cardigan with the skirt?! I'm trying to be less boring with clothes, but I was second guessing myself all day! 

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Mark Twain on his wife, Olivia

"I saw her first in the form of an ivory miniature in her brother Charley's stateroom in the steamer Quaker City in the Bay of Smyrna, in the summer of 1867, when she was in her twenty-second year. I saw her in the flesh for the first time in New York City in the following December. She was slender and beautiful and girlish - she was both girl and woman. She remained both girl and woman to the last day of her life. Under a grave and gentle exterior burned inextinguishable fires of sympathy, energy, devotion, enthusiasm and absolutely limitless affection."

Monday, April 11, 2011

Start with a mildly complicated project

I spied the most adorable skirt on one of my favorite new blogs last week, followed swiftly by some spectacular advice on E Tells Tales about how to get started with a sewing project: 
Start with a mildly complicated project you love. If you start with something easy and useless, you'll hate yourself by the end and probably give up. If you want the finished result badly enough, you'll end up learning the process. And be prepared to make mistakes, completely ruin things, and cuss a lot.
This skirt seemed like a mildly complicated project I loved, so yesterday I went to the fabric store and found the darling Poplin print above (on sale for $6.49 a yard!). I made a deal with myself that I needed to use my sewing machine for this project. No telling myself about how people in the olden days sewed everything by hand, and surely I could, too.

There's nothing wrong with that approach, of course, but I've been avoiding my sewing machine for months for a completely silly reason. I was scared of it. 

Looking back, I realize how crazy that sounds. I've only used it for a few hours, but already I love my cute little sewing machine! It's quiet and seems pretty easy to use - at least, it should be, once I learn a bit more and can stop referring to the directions every few minutes.

I did have a little mishap this morning which took 10 minutes to sew and about an hour to undo, but so it goes when overcoming a fear to learn something new. I hope by tomorrow I'll have a cute little Flirt skirt to show you! 

Friday, April 8, 2011

Golf + How to Steal Like an Artist

(via Life)

Crossing my fingers for a warm, sunny day in the Berkshires tomorrow. My golf bag is in the trunk, ready to be loved again! Or hated, actually, depending on how the game goes. (Just kidding, Peter! I'll be a good sport, as long as there are snacks.)

PS: I read How to Steal Like an Artist yesterday, written by the guy who creates these amazing black-out newsprint poems. Such fun advice, even if you're not an actual artist. Number 9 is my favorite -- boring people unite!

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Ruffled napkin rings


The new e-magazine Styled is filled with so many fun entertaining ideas! I'm now convinced I need to have a breakfast burrito party complete with festive confetti garlands and colorful jars of sprinkles.

Before I take that on, though, I decided to try making a gussied-up version of the ruffled napkin rings on page 86-87. They use brown grocery bags to create the ruffles, but since I have piles of pretty Crane paper lying around, I decided to use some of that instead. Wrapping paper would also look great.

Super simple how-to is over here!

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Luckiest day of the year?

According to my horoscope, today is one of my luckiest days of the year. The pressure! The excitement! I've been looking for signs all morning. Here's how we're stacking up:

  1. When the alarm went off, Peter was having a dream about Beatles songs. I hate the Beatles. Unlucky. 
  2. On my street, this cute little droopy tree is covered in the most darling pink blossoms. Lucky!
  3. The subway was crazy crowded and someone was eating a banana - only the worst smelling and sounding fruit there is. Unlucky.
  4. Walking to my office this morning, I nearly ran into a very grubby looking Judith Light. Lucky?
I'd say we're about even so far. Maybe I should get crazy wild and buy a scratch ticket or something! 

Monday, April 4, 2011

Audrey, UNICEF Ambassador

(Images from UNICEF)

We watched Charade on Saturday night (very fun!), and afterwards, I looked up Audrey Hepburn's bio. How could I have forgotten her work with UNICEF later in life?! She was one of the original Goodwill Ambassadors and traveled all over, right up until her death in the early 90s. 

These were shot during a time when development photography leaned heavily toward the dark and serious, even with children. These are all so happy and bright! How great is the photo of her driving the rickshaw in Bangladesh?!

Friday, April 1, 2011

Wedding wear

We have a bunch of weddings this spring and summer for friends and loved ones. Lucky for me, most involve entirely different groups of people, so I can wear the same thing to each one! I'm having trouble deciding on that one a special purchase, though. You ladies are brilliant and always look lovely. Help?!*

Pretty and romantic. Plus, Grecian style dresses look really awesome on me.

Don't you hate it when you're at a fun hotel wedding and toward the end of the night, some drunk groomsmen decide to jump into the pool? And you never do because you don't want to ruin your pretty dress? Me too. Problem solved!

Such a gorgeous color, plus lots of room for all those passed apps and cupcakes I have a special talent for consuming. 

Thoughts, sweet friends?! 

*Happy April Fools Day! Besides, you already know I'm wearing Lilly, right?!
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