May 29, 2015

Boozy Birthday Brunch

Summer's arrived and with it, a bunch of birthdays to celebrate! It's a crazy time of year with all the holidays, anniversaries, graduations and birthdays, so booze is a necessary component (or at least it's MY necessary component :)
One of my very best friends, who also happens to be my husband's first cousin, Eliza, celebrated her 50th birthday this past weekend. She was at the end of two graduation celebrations, I was at the end of one, plus it happened to be Memorial Day weekend. And as Eliza is quick to do, she deflects any suggestion for her birthday celebrations of any kind. But she is also quick to enforce us having to endure the attention on our own birthdays, so a small group of her friends and I were not going to let her 50th slip away. We got her!

After a evening gathering with Eliza's husband and daughter, a "boozy brunch" was offered and they accepted. And literally, during a drive up to their son's graduation in NH the day before her birthday, the plan was created by a small group of us and Eliza's sweet daughter, through a large series of texts of who-brings-what. My phone was practically bouncing off the counter. And because of the super-quick preparations, the party was small and I'm sure we forgot some friends. (I'm really sorry about that if you're reading this!) But this was just an impromptu brunchy gathering for Eliza with no stress and only a few people. The pop-up-party was afoot!
I got my supplies ready under my Lilly Pulitzer Target umbrella! Aren't the palm leaves so groovy?
My Lilly car tote I got from that website, Swoozies, was the perfect way to get organized. 
We had so many fun things to pack.
Once we "landed", as one friend said, at Eliza's house while she was out, we started to set up this pop-up-party!

The menu:
Oysters on the Half Shell
Shrimp Cocktail
Smoked Salmon
Eggs Benedict
Fruit Salad
Coffee Cakes - homemade by the best baker, Traci
Crudites with Hummus
Fruit Tart
Dr. Pepper Cake as the birthday cake

And for drinks, 
A boozy Bloody Mary Bar
& Mimosas
Yum, yum, yum!

Eliza and her husband picked up this AMAZING Vietri platter (or actually set of platters that fit together like the coolest puzzle) when they were on a trip visiting friends in Italy. This was the perfect backdrop for the shucked oysters and other seafood goodies. 

My friend, Libby, did a genius job bringing poached eggs in a big roasting pan. She said the key was using enough vinegar in the boiling water to make the eggs shrink onto themselves and thus be the perfect size and cooked just right. She and another friend, Mary, whipped up the yummiest hollandaise sauce and toasted the english muffins while the unsuspecting Eliza was on a walk.
I started pulling the bar together. And because we didn't want anyone to have to do the dishes, we opted for cute printed, as well as classic SOLO cups for the bloodies and one piece plastic champagne flutes for the mimosas. These pop-up things are great! There's no pressure to have it be perfect. The only goal is to have fun! The backdrop took care of itself…
For accoutrements to our yummy bloodies, I filled little bowls with:
cooked shrimp
baby corn
baby dill pickles
steamed green beans
four kinds of stuffed olives
bamboo skewers for the myriad of olive combos
And of course, full-sized bottles of Absolut 
and Mr. & Mrs. T's Original Bloody Mary Mix (which really is the best)

For the mimosas, we kept it simple with higher quality (but not enough to be ridiculously expensive) champagne and Florida squeezed orange juice
While preparations were underway, 
the gals were out in the driveway welcoming the BIRTHDAY GIRL!

I made the Dr. Pepper cake from this yummy recipe... 
…from a cookbook I found in Fort Worth, Texas when I was there this winter witnessing my first cattle drive!
My horsey friend, Fern, who also happens to be my most amazing dentist (and this is huge praise because I cannot tell you how much I HATE going to the dentist!) cracked up that this coastal loving mermaid used a Texas cowboy recipe. But it was mm, mm, good!

Here's the recipe from this awesome book:

Grandma Spears' Dr. Pepper Cake
Makes one 9 by13-inch sheet cake or 3 layer 8-inch cake

Cake: (it uses a LOT of butter, hence why it's sooo good)
1 cup butter
1 cup Dr. Pepper
3 tablespoons cocoa
1/2 cup buttermilk
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon vanilla extract (I used a little more because I like vanilla)
2 eggs
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 cups sugar

Frosting (more butter and sugar - no calories in this thing, I'm sure!)
1 cup butter
3 tablespoons cocoa
6 tablespoons Dr. Pepper
1 1/2 cups sifted confectioner's sugar

Preheat oven to 350 and prepare the cake
In a saucepan, heat the butter, Dr. Pepper and cocoa until boiling and then remove from the heatIn a mixing bowl, combine the buttermilk, baking soda, vanilla and eggs, mixing well
In a separate bowl, combine the flour and sugar
Combine all 3 mixtures and pour into your greased pans
Bake for 20-25 minutes until done when a toothpick is inserted and comes out clean

While the cake is cooking, make the frosting
Combine the butter, cocoa and Dr. Pepper in a saucepan and bring to a simmer
Whisk in th esugar and remove from the heat
Cool the mixture slightly before pouring over the cake that has been pierced all over using a skewer
Spread the frosting all over the cake and allow it to seep into all the holes

I served it with fruit on the side - yummy!

Fresh from her four mile walk, and not having any clue that we had prepared this boozy brunch, Eliza was game, complete with a SOLO cup shot glass necklace!

The drinks kept flowing as freely as the laughs…
Pretty crummy way to celebrate, right?
And all surrounded by family and kids who (almost all) were out for the summer!

Happy Birthday! Here's to Summer!

May 23, 2015

Flower Master Class with France's Christian Tortu

For anyone who loves flower arranging, this is already redundant. But Christian Tortu is simply amazing! And his master class at the MFA certainly didn't disappoint!
A month ago (wow, time's flying by with Mother's Day and graduations, etc. etc.), I had the great good fortune to attend a master flower arranging class at Boston's Museum of Fine Arts as part of their annual Art in Bloom celebration. It was a birthday present to myself and Christian Tortu was the instructor extraodinaire!
Having grown up in a family of gardeners, Christian loved all natural elements and flowers and he eventually made it to Paris to work on his trade. Moving on, Christian was the Creative Director for this huge NYC flower shop, Takishimaya. He eventually left and now has two stores in Tokyo among other major cities and also teaches at The Flower School in NYC and lectures, to people like me :)
So, when this dapper French man sauntered into the workroom at the MFA, all the ladies got giddy and giggly. There's nothing like a French man to set the mood. "Bonjour" was all he had to say and we were eating out of his hand.
The group who had gathered to take the class was a mix of younger girls, and older grandes dame, with one man, who also, funnily enough, happened to be from France. I'm hoping personally, I fall into the category between the younger gals and grandes dame, there's too much life left for me to think of myself as a "highly respected middle-aged or elderly woman"!
Starting with a stunning clear Medici (or bell-shaped, named for the Roman Medicis) glass vase, we saw all the beautiful roses and greens waiting for us in the center of the room. I was clearly in my happy place. Christian had a way of pronouncing the names of flowers that made the ladies swoon, but once we got over the fact that we were in the presence of floral genius, we set about our task. 
We were told to bring clippers, a knife (if so desired) and an apron. I only brought clippers.
With the flower "recipe" written on the white board, we all knew what kind and how many of each type of flower would be in each arrangement.
First, Christian made the sample arrangement, explaining what he was doing as he went along:
1) Start with all the same color
2) Use a knife (I still don't because I cut my hand too badly one time and had to get stitches and am afraid of them, but I think I'm going to give it another try) to cut stems. He even scrapes the bottom part of the tulip stems so they can drink up more water
3) Start with the big flowers first and build from there
4) Keep tulips in paper or in the flower sleeve they came in to keep the stems from bending too much, and don't put them in too much water
Here, he had placed the roses in groupings of threes and in like colors around the edge of the container. Then the bluperum (the greens) were added to provide color contrast.
Once the roses and greens were in place, he moved on to the tulips, rotating the vase the entire time making sure the balance was just right. He also grouped these by color.
After the tulips came the ranunculus (one of my favorite flowers), which he called the "hair" of the arrangement. I think he used that term because he sat the ranunculas on top and they were kind of curly and fun. And then the final je ne sais quois, BEAUTIFUL sweet peas! 
Such an uplifting combo of flowers! 
Et voilàA cheery mix of colors and textures making this girl drool and ready to get started on my own arrangement.
We were given a bundle of the most beautiful flowers, so perfectly conditioned, and all tied with a rustic piece of twine. Très magnifique!

And then, because my brain works this way, I set about separating the flowers by their types so I could see what I had to work with. It surprised me that none of the ladies at my table did the same.
At this point in my arrangement, you can see groups of three "Pink Floyd" (hot pink) roses clustered together, and three "Free Spirit" (orange) roses together. When adding these flowers, I tried to have the stem heights varied so they all didn't look like they were one the same plane. I mixed the green bluperum around evenly and then with the tulips I did the same, placing them in color groups and mostly on the edges with a few in the middle of the arrangement.
Once I was at this stage, I was allowed to go up to the main table to gather my ranunculus, aka hair, and the sweet peas. Christian had explained that the center of the arrangement should be like a "nest" and you should have the feeling that the flowers are coming from the center. That way there's constant movement throughout the arrangement.
These darling sweet peas were added at the end primarily because they were so fragile, but also because they had such thin stems that they would be easy to insert in such a jam-packed arrangement.
I Just kept rotating the vase looking for holes since the arrangement.
And tada! Here's how it came out, ready for the critique by my master instructor.
You can see that this lady chose to follow her own path and mixed up all the flowers all along.
I think our table did a pretty great job. 
And after getting the highest praise from Christian Tortu himself, (he asked me if I was a professional and proclaimed my arrangement Très Bon! I nearly fainted!), I ran to the MFA's bookstore to grab his hard-to-find book. The day was only getting better!
All the arrangements were packed in boxes to transport home. 
But I still had one more thing to do...
GET MY BOOK SIGNED by the man himself! Ooh la la!
And here I placed my arrangement for ME (since all my kids were away and my husband was on our boat in Florida) to enjoy. And did I ever.

May 5, 2015

GOODIES FOR MOM (or other favorite gals in your life)

It's almost here! That one day where you tell your Mum how much they mean to you. No pressure right? As a friend recently told me, "Mother's Day is like being a father one day of the year."

I will admit, I do think dads get off easy and get to play more than moms. But I'll also admit that I think Moms, and all of us fabulous chicas bonitas, enjoy our lives and relationships maybe a little more than guys even know how to. It's about quality and not quantity, and we all certainly know how to work hard, play hard! (hence the wine…but I digress)

So to honor those you love, or if you know a guy who needs a little prodding, here's a handy little shopping guide to make Sunday your FUNday!

For the Gardener (or those who just like to get muddy)
These boots are really cool and unique since they were created out of a special collaboration between the venerable British firm, Hunter Boots, and The Royal Horticultural Society. To make them, Hunter was able to use historic floral prints to create the design. These just may fall in my shopping cart! oops!
Hunter Royal Horticultural Society (RHS) Tall Boots $170

For the Mixologist and Drink Diva
Okay, so I don't usually like to suggest things that aren't immediately available and thus gratifying, but these are so cool that they deserve to make this list. The company, Julia B., can also send a pretty little gift certificate that tells your recipient of their amazing gift to come! The name of the napkin says it all, "They Drink Like Fish", but what's even neater is that you can personalize the fish! There may soon be a set with "Nanny" and "Peter" in the bodies. Just sayin'… 
"They Drink Like Fish" Julia B. cocktail napkins - set of 8, $400

For the Glamour Gal (or the girl who aspires to be so)
I just can't help myself in promoting my best college friend, Meg's, GORGEOUS jewelry! When she wears this piece, and she does so often, it truly is a show-stopper. This necklace adds the perfect touch for a dressy night, and if you're more like me, it makes jeans look intentional and chic instead of something I just grabbed and put on, like I do everyday. Go for it!
"Falmouth" Necklace, Meg Carter Designs $210

For the Dreamer
Every time my friend, Traci, walks by me when she wears this fragrance, I stop her in her tracks and say something dumb like, "What's that perfume you're wearing?" I never remember the name, but I can't ever forget the tuberose gardenia bliss that takes me away. I sound weird, but it IS that amazing! If you've ever stuck your nose inside a tuberose or gardenia, then you know what I'm talking about. And then imagine those scents combined. I'm in a floral coma just thinking about it! Available from Estee Lauder, you can also find it at Sephora. (p.s. I know there's an accent in Estee's name, I just can't figure out how to do it on this blogger system :) 
Estee Lauder Tuberose Gardenia Perfume, 1 oz. $90

For the Roving Cocktailer
With spring and summer soon upon us, we all want to carry our drinks poolside, or to the beaches and on boats. Glass is never a good option for those occasions. And while there are plenty of acrylic options, the colorful party gal wants flair, and Lilly Pulitzer's stemless acrylic wineglasses fit the bill perfectly! The BEST part about this pattern, is the cheeky monkey (I've always wanted to name a bar with that) hiding amongst the oranges.
"Lilly's Pink" Stemless Acrylic Wineglass, Set of 2, $20

For the (nautical) Golfer
In a town near where I live, formally known as Manchester-By-The-Sea, is a tiny little store with the greatest items. Mimi, as the store is named, is owned and operated by a dynamic mother-daughter duo who, combined, have the knack for collecting the coolest things. This "TEE TIME" pillow, in a nautical blue replete with the sailor type of stenciling, is too much fun to pass up especially for a golfer who lives on the coast. And the best part? You don't even have to have decent handicap to own it!
TEE TIME  canvas pillow, $46

For the Decorator or Realestalker
My friends and I coined the term "realestalker" because we tend to "pop in" our neighborhood's broker open houses. They always happen on Wednesdays and are less crowded and without the snoopy people who are at the regular open houses. The Broker open houses also usually have a light lunch so we try to grab a cookie or two. World Peace could be solved over chocolate chip cookies. Anyway, The Kips Bay Decorator Show House is the Gold Standard when it comes to these kinds of events. And I think even the most famous decorators don't consider themselves as having arrived until they've participated in one way or another in this show. This book about all these show houses is selling fast, so grab your copy now!
"40 Years of Fabulous", $75

For the Athlete and Cruiser
If you've ever been lucky enough to travel to Amsterdam, then you'll recognize this bike immediately. These kinds of bikes zoom past you on the streets filled with babies and groceries and bodies of all types hanging all over. It's one of the coolest and most amazing sites in a city filled with canals, wooden shoes and FLOWERS galore! But anyone in the US who likes a cruising-style bike will also love the low profile and places to attach woven baskets and carry friends. This Amsterdam beach cruising bike is such a fun way to see the world and get exercise all at the same time!
Hollandia Land Cruiser $349.99

Simply for Love
If a place has my heart permanently, then it is Nantucket. I feel an affinity for this little island off the coast of Massachusetts unlike any other place (except maybe New London, NH). At Nantucket Looms, an institution on the island, is where one can find this amazing heart-shaped Nantucket basket. I have loved this store since I was a little girl and managed to "borrow" a sweater of my Mum's. I wore this woven cotton sweater with it's signature Nantucket Looms label sewn inside, until it literally fell apart. I remedied the situation today and ordered myself a new one and I can't wait! The store also sells so many other perfect gifts, that the website is worth a full examination. The ever-iconic Nantucket basket is sought after by all lovers of this island. But it's the sweet heart-shaped version that I'm smitten with as a Mother's Day present.
"Be Mine" Heart-Shaped Nantucket Lightship Basket, $600

For the Arm-Chair Traveler and Lover of All Things Flowers
Oh Flower Magazine, how I love thee! I can't remember the happy day I stumbled upon your pages, but big am I glad I did! I literally (okay, well maybe not literally) drool over the pictures and articles in this yummy magazine! Filled with stories of gardens and gardeners, floral arrangers, cool locations, markets, you name it, this is the kind of magazine where you fill a glass of wine, find a quiet spot, sit and savor each and every page. A subscription to this magazine would make the perfect gift!
Flower Magazine 1 Year Subscription, $19.99

For the Dog Lover
My beloved dog, Woody, died more than a year ago and I still miss him terribly. His picture is even my personal Facebook page's picture and I can't get the strength to take it down. So, when I was reading another favorite magazine, Garden and Gun, I saw that they have a little market associated with the magazine. After a little look-see, I found these amazing DOG TOPIARIES! The funniest thing is that they offer a bunch of different breeds of dogs to beautify your grounds. Since Woody was a golden retriever, I think I may have to get one. And then maybe if he's in my yard again, I'll gain the strength to move on. Maybe.
Golden Retriever Dog Topiary $368 (some other dog breeds are less, some more)

So, raise a glass (or three) to those who make your life special, whether in the traditional sense or not. There's a lot to celebrate on Mother's Day. And finding joy in your daily life is a virtue needed now, more than ever.

Happy Mother's Day, or Happy Make-a-Gal-in-Your-Life-Feel-Special Day!