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Monday, May 4, 2015

Landscaping and Garden Design Plan | Hydrangea, Boxwood, Peonies, Lavender...

The time has come for us to actually be doing some physical work at the house.  After months and months (7, but who's counting...) of doing walk-thrus and watching subs work, I actually get to get my hands dirty (and my fingernails...) and do some work, which thrills me.  I'm not a very good observer - more of a doer.  Being able to "do" for the last week has made me feel so rejuvenated.  Rejuvenated and ready to move it in just a couple of weeks; )

You can browse through my plan above to see where I'm going.  I'll share photos of my actual progress later in the week.  This is a finished project plan drawing.  I'm picking and choosing what I'm working on this year to start.  I've already put in the front landscaping - boxwoods and hydrangea.  I've planted the hydrangea hedge in the back left, along with the dogwood.  The cherry tree and lilacs are also in.  I transplanted some very old peony bushes in the back right that I'm so excited about - more on those later.  

As you can see from the design plan, I'm doing a lot of symmetrical beds - my style.  I'm trying to incorporate some curves and some flowing places, too, to create movement and natural lines - a little out of my comfort zone there.   Just making the plan has helped me feel a little better - and helped curb my enthusiasm to do everything at once.

So, this is where I've been for the last week.  Our old new yard.  Okay, actually, this is where I've been for the last week...

This is a major Before picture standing on our back porch.  As you can see, we have an overgrown fence line in the back that is our neighbors.  I like the natural backdrop, but want to put a pretty cedar fence in front to hide where their chain peeks thru.

The previous owners didn't do too much in the back, so we are left with a nice blank slate.  I do wish we had some more mature trees like our neighbors to offer shade, but we'll have to plant small and let them grow the old fashioned way.

To my left, very charming south neighbor's yard.  We'll be matching her fence for our gates and back fence line.

To my right, North side neighbor's privacy fence.  We'll be adding landscaping to soften.  The first think Mike did was rip out the bush to the left.  I think it was just a giant weed.

I assure you after a week of work it already looks better than these photos I took a couple of weeks ago.   In fact, here's your first sneak peek of the exterior paint color.  

You can also see the stepping stones (some of them) headed to the new patio area.  

We still have a ways to go.  There are a couple of things that will help tremendously :
1) New back cedar fence to match south side neighbor.  Mike and my Dad worked on it over the weekend and should be ready very soon.
2) New sod everywhere - something Mike has been dreaming of for a long time.

As always, I've gathered a lot of inspiration... I'll be pleased if I can somehow create even just a glimpse of these luscious gardens in our yard.  Hopeful, but not entirely sure : )

We are doing pea gravel for our patio and I'd like to put some big pots scattered around the yard, too.

We all recognize this garden.  This is an older photograph of the Barefoot Contessa's.  I love the wild mixed with the hedged boxwoods.

Newer photo.  Purple and white.

And an arial, just because it is interesting to see the structure.  We will want more play room in our yard, but maybe I'll do some hedged square beds, too?

I want our front walk to be spilling over with hydrangeas like these.  The boxwoods will be more for the winter months when the hydrangea are sticks.

Wish me luck!

Friday, April 24, 2015

Vanilla Pound Cake with Lemon Curd Creme, Blackberries, Blue Berries & Black Plums for Mother's Day

This morning, I'm flashing back to one of my all favorite posts.  I remember the day I shot it - Emma was about 4 months old, it was a Saturday morning (back when I would do all of my work on Saturday!) and Mike and Emma watched me while I set up everything on our old porch in Concord with my favorite blue backdrop and old table.  I can't believe that was 3 years ago - it feels like about 10!  Lately, I've been feeling a bit like I'm a bit paralyzed for food blogging until our house/kitchen is done so I have the perfect setting.  It seems like a valid excuse, but this reminds me you don't have to have everything perfect to make something beautiful. 

Enjoy - this really is a beautiful dessert and so simple to make/assemble.


I love assembling desserts.  When I'm entertaining, any shortcuts that result in something scrumptious looking and delicious is welcome in my kitchen.  I set out to make a trifle... but I somehow have misplaced my trifle bowl.  Funny- I don't think I ever actually used it for a trifle before, but I used it all of the time when I was catering as an elevated bowl for salads, dip, fruit, whatever- and now that I actually need it for a trifle, I can't find it.  Of course.  I think I even had two from the catering days... multiples of everything. 

Anyway, I really wanted to make an elegant, yet slightly rustic and well, sloppily decadent looking dessert.  I decided to make a trifle-looking layer cake with pound cake, lemon curd cream and whipped cream topped with berries.  It turned out beautifully.  I think.

Vanilla Pound Cake with 
Lemon Curd Cream, Whipped Cream & Berries

Vanilla Pound Cake (homemade or purchased)
Recipe of Lemon Curd
1 pint of Whipping Cream
1/4 cup of Sugar
Berries & Fruit
Lemon, zested

Whip the cream with a whisk attachment until soft peaks form.  Add sugar and whip for another 30 seconds.   Slice cake into 3 layers with a serrated knife.  Layer with whipped cream and lemon curd cream between each layer.  Top with whipped cream, berries, fruit and lemon zest. 

I bake my cakes with a piece of parchment cut to the shape of the bottom of my pan.  You can easily use a store-bought pound cake for this 'assembled' dessert.  I baked mine because I wanted a round cake that would fit on this cake stand.

A serrated knife is also known as a bread knife - essential for not tearing up your cake.

Put lots of lemon - half of the recipe between each layer!

Big dollops of whipped cream - enough to smoosh over the sides.

Next layer, please...  This is really just silly simple.  I think a cake made in a loaf pan - traditional pound cake - would look great, too. 

Pile it on.  The messier the better.

Now the pretty fruit.  You really can't mess this up - just make it look bountiful, the secret to all great looking food!

Lemon zest adds...

Just the right thing amongst the dark berries.  Isn't she a beauty?  Wow.  She's messy and pretty at the same time.  Can I say wow about my own creation?

She looks great, piled high and overflowing, as part of a Mother's Day Spring table setting.

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Mother's Day Collection | Lavender, Baskets, Candles & Trays

For Mother's Day this year I've gone back to the classics - Mom's like that, right?  Bunches of dried lavender from France, I brought back the Hanging Door Baskets from last year, a new size of Willow Serving Trays and a collection of Classic Trays that are my new favorite thing (made of recycled materials!).  I hope you find something that you (and your Mother) love.

See the entire Mother's Day Collection, here >


French Lavender Bundles - Dried, $14

These dried French Lavender Bundles come straight from the fields in Provence.  They are the perfect little something for a hostess gift, can transform a bedside table into something special, or go into a Hanging Basket (here) on your front door.  I used three of these bundles in this photo of the hanging basket, but even two would do the job.  They come wrapped in kraft paper and tied with natural twine, just like you would find at a French market.

Basket - Willow Hanging, $38.5

A favorite from last year is back!  This year I've filled ours with dried bunches of French Lavender, but you might remember last year when it was filled with hydrangeas and flags for the 4th of July.  It looks great with branches of Cherry Blossoms, big bunches of leaves or wheat in the Fall, branches of berries for the Holidays... endless.  
 The secret to using fresh branches and blooms in the basket is using floral tubes to keep them fresh.  I've included 10 large clear tubes with each basket.  Please note, it was a little too large to hang on our old front door, as we had a storm door in front of it, but looks great hanging off of a door knob inside, too.  

Lavender Spray Bottles - Set of 2, $8

I love simple ideas - easy ideas that are incredibly chic.  By adding dried sprigs of lavender to water you can transform your linen spray into something really special.  Spray on linens before ironing, or spray on a freshly made bed... or wipe down your countertop with it!   It will make you feel like an incredibly chic French woman in the Provence countryside : )
For this collection, I've included two spray bottles that come with three sprigs of dried lavender.  The set also comes with multiple labels for the bottles - both "Lavender Linen Spray" and "Lavender Counter Spray".  All you need to do is affix the label and fill with water.  In just a couple of hours, the dried lavender will lightly scent the water.  It is simple and chic - no chemicals to cloud the pureness, just an easy way to freshen your daily routine. 

Large Willow Serving Baskets - Set of 2

For me, Summer Entertaining is all about ease and bounty.  These serving baskets are exactly what I envision when I think about a breezy, easy summer party.  They make anything from appetizers to stacks of plates and linen napkins look inviting and lovely.
Last year I carried a set of 3 Willow Serving Baskets that were smaller than these - they were very popular, so many of you have them from last year!  I loved the smaller collection, but this year looked for larger ones that would hold a bigger spread of appetizers.   This set of 2, (and 18" round and a 20" round) are a great size for a summer party - I'm thinking a bowl of tomatoes with basil and mozzarella surrounded by crostini, or chips surrounding fresh guacamole.  I love lining the basket with a nice linen tea towel.  

The Tea Towels used with the baskets, can be seen here.

Bread Boards - Aged Pine (Special Order)

With our new kitchen on the near horizon, I've been thinking about some new accessories (necessities?) that I've had my eye on.  A set of aged Bread Boards is at the top of the list.  We've all seen them in our favorite kitchens, namely the Tessa's (Nine & Sixteen) and the Barefoot Contessa's, leaning on their counters.  Not only are they great for building a big cheese board or appetizer spread, but they will add some aged character to my very new kitchen.  
These Aged Bread Boards are a special order item and will take two weeks to ship.  

Classic Tray Collection


For a while I've been looking for serving pieces that have the softly polished, rustic look of Italian handmade pewter, but would be suitable for more everyday and casual parties.  When I stumbled upon this Classic Collection it was like an incredible twist of fate - a New England company (in Manchester by the Sea, Ma.) making pewter-looking serving pieces out of 100% recycled aluminum.  All of my favorite things in one! 

Of course, all Moms (ok, most) Mom's love to bake.  Here are my favorites that make baking a pleasure.  See entire Baking Collection > 

Each year for Mother's Day Emma does a handprint on a nice Linen Tea Towel with her name and year as a gift for her Grandmas.  This year I've restocked this collection of Provencal Blue Striped Classic Towels and Table Linens just in time.

Everyday Candle - Lovely, $16

For Mother's Day I mixed some of my favorite soft and lovely scents - Gardenia, Lilac and Lily Of The Valley.  The result is a clean, soft and fresh floral scent that feels like the doors open on an early morning.  As always, my candles are poured in a Mini Latte Bowl that can be reused after the candle is gone.  Limited supply available.
I hope you enjoyed browsing the Mother's Day Collection.  See everything here >

Monday, April 20, 2015

Party Food! Easy Menu Ideas & Recipes for Gatherings

As I mentioned last week, I've been getting emails from friends and past clients wanting some menu ideas for upcoming parties they are hosting.  While personally I love smaller dinner parties and get togethers, many big moments in our lives are centered around larger gatherings - open houses, showers and parties.  Even the most seasoned hostess can get a little nervous preparing to entertain 50+ guests.  What kind of food, do I need staff, how much food, how much drink, what kind of decor?

In my catering days I dubbed my business as an Event Planning Co. that specialized in Small to Medium Sized parties in my Clients homes... so, I have lots of answers and solutions for these questions, but I forget to talk about them on the blog because they are a little out of my daily routine now.  I flipped back through the blog (even reached back 7 years!) and pulled some photos from old parties that I did for clients and a couple for myself.  You'll have to forgive the photo quality - most of these photos were taken with my Blackberry very long ago just before I threw off my apron and served drinks to guests.   

Entertaining for our friends is a big part of our life, and I can't wait to get back into the swing when our house is finished in a couple of weeks - it has been something we've really missed.  So, it has been nice for me to look back and relive some of these fun parties. 

Backyard Birthday

I created this event for a client's surprise 30th birthday party for her husband and for 60 guests.  We wanted the event to feel like a casual backyard barbecue that was a little more special than brats on the grill.  The guest of honor was a 30-year-old guy, so we picked all of his favorite foods, but dressed them up a bit.  For example, instead of "potato skins" we made potato canapés out of red potatoes and topped them with bacon, sour cream and chives, and instead of chicken wings, we made buffalo chicken skewers.  This would be a great menu for a high school or college graduation party, too!  More party details, here.

Menu :

- Caramelized Onion & Blue Cheese
- Cheddar & Special Sauce
Buffalo Chicken Skewers
Potato Canapés with Bacon
Bowl of Cherries

Drinks :

White Wine

Ladies Night Patio Party

I hosted this party for about 25 neighborhood girls a couple of years ago.  Everything was made ahead of time and I put the food out in a baskets and on platters to make it relaxed.  I spread the food out - some on the patio, some on the porch and some with the drinks in the kitchen so everyone could sort of graze and mingle.
Get all of the details and recipe links, here.

Menu :

Herbed Shrimp Skewers
Summer Tomato, Olive & Zucchini Bruschetta
Creamy Crab Dip & Veggies
Mini S'mores
White Wine & Peach Sangria

You might remember this setup from last summer - my current favorite easy entertaining menu.

 Menu :

- BBQ & Onion Ring Burgers
- Classic American Cheeseburger
-Watermelon & Tomato Kebabs
-Guacamole Salad & Chips

Get more details and recipes, here.

I used the Privet Berry Folded Cards from my store to label them - always helpful at a party and an easy opportunity to give the food display some color from your theme.

Ladies Open House

This was a party I did for a Mission Hills client almost 7 years ago - I can remember it was the week after Mike and I moved in our first house and I was so thrilled to be able to make everything in my new kitchen.   It was an open house for a group of ladies in May - heavy hors d'oeuvres and cocktails.   Get all of the details, here.
 Menu :

Mini BLTs on Baquette
Mini Grilled Salmon Sliders with Caper Mayo
Artisan Cheese & Berry Platter with Homemade Cheddar Biscuits
Watermelon & Tomato Kebabs (a favorite I guess!)
Veggies & Creamy Corn Dip
Goat Cheese & Caramelized Onion Tarts
Mini BLTs a favorite of the women that night - and the Goat Cheese & Caramelized Onion Tarts.  I think I wrote out the recipe for a few.

I think cute signs always elevate the look of a food display for parties - makes it look a little more planned and professional.  I forgot how cute these were!
These Salmon Sliders were so good - very easy.  I grilled the salmon earlier in the day, then refrigerated it.  I served it on these mini rolls topped with caper lemon mayo.  

This is a Game Day Party that I've featured several times on the blog.  I put it together just after we moved to Massachusetts and set it up on our patio.  It would also be a great menu and setup for a graduation party or a birthday.   You can get all of the details from the post, here.

Menu : 

Pulled Pork Sliders
Creamy Spinach with Tortilla Chips
Pigs in a Blanket with Mustard Dipping Sauce
Football Whoopie Pies
Pumpkin Beers

 I'm planning to do even more entertaining posts coming up - I'd love to hear about what you are planning!
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