Friday, February 27, 2009

Ask Me Anything: Coffee Talk

Even before I started this blog, friends would come to me with their random queries, seeking whatever wisdom I had to impart. I think it's because I have a real know-it-all quality about me (in case you haven't noticed), and, since I don't like to be wrong (or potentially miss a question on Jeopardy!), they know that if I don't know the answer myself, I'll usually do the legwork to find it out. To that end, I am starting a new Q&A feature on A Charmed Wife, called "Ask Me Anything". Email your burning questions to, or leave a comment on the site, and I will do my best to relieve the burning. For today's installment, we hear from my friend, Kim and her sister/roommate, Amy.

I thought you could shed some light on a debate Amy and I are having... proper coffee storage. So we are convenience driven and therefore buy our coffee pre-ground (I know red flags) in those packaged bags. The question is, should we store it in the bag forcing all the extra air out and sealing it tightly or dump it into a sealed glass container? I also read light could be a freshness factor? Please help, our domestic happiness is at stake:) Thanks! Kim

Dear Kim,
My heart aches to think of two sisters in a caffeine-fueled rage, a rift driven between them over proper grounds storage. The good news is that you can stop fighting, because you are both wrong.

Your first mistake is buying pre-ground coffee, but I know you know that already. Coffee starts deteriorating (losing flavor and getting stale) as soon as it's roasted, and ground coffee deteriorates much faster than beans (simply because they have more surface area). Your mission (should you choose to accept it) is to slow this deterioration as much as possible by reducing the beans'/grounds' exposure to their natural enemies: moisture, light, air, and other flavors. For that reason, it is always best to grind your beans just before you brew your joe. But I admit that sometimes, when laziness overcomes, I too have purchased the pre-ground beans, so ye without sin cast the first stone.

You are correct that a glass container will allow too much light to hit the grounds and decrease their flavor shelf-life. Amy is correct that, once opened, the plastic bag the grounds came in allow too much exposure to air, and the plastic itself might taint the flavor of the coffee. You both are best off compromising and buying an airtight, light-proof, ceramic or stainless steel coffee canister. I like these White Hinged Canisters ($23 for 4), available from Amazon, because they're cute and come with a measuring spoon. You can use the other ones for tea and sugar. Just don't store more than two weeks' worth of coffee at a time.

Your next best option is to leave the coffee grounds in the bag they came in and place that bag in a Ziplock bag and force all the air out of it, and put that in a cool, dark cabinet. But if your grounds taste plastic-y, don't blame me.

Lastly, I want to address the issue of storing coffee in the fridge or freezer. 1) Don't ever put your coffee beans in the fridge- it's moisture and other food flavor heaven in there, and your beans are powerless against them. 2) It's only worth putting coffee in the freezer that you aren't going to use in the next two weeks. Like, if you went to Costco and just couldn't resist the 20 lb. sack of Starbucks, you should take out a couple week's worth of beans and store them at room temp, and wrap the rest in a plastic bag or saran wrap, and stick that puppy in the back of the freezer til you need it.

Ladies, I hope you can now set aside your differences and find peace with each other. Preferably over a nice, steamy flavor-rich cup of coffee.

coffee bean image from gregkendallball on flickr

Thursday, February 26, 2009

I Yum What I Yam (Baked Sweet Potatoes)

It's easy to forget about the poor sweet potato in between the holidays and, even then, to only think of them smothered in brown sugar and marshmallows. But in reality these tantalizing little tubers make for a delicious, easy dinner that is surprisingly healthy any time of year. Sweet potatoes are high in Vitamins A and C and Beta Carotene (hence the orange color), and, if you eat the skin (which you should because it's tasty) full of fiber, to boot. In fact, they were ranked highest nutritionally among all vegetables by nutritionists at the Center for Science in the Public Interest (sorry, Popeye).

You need little to no cooking skills to make them- all you do is preheat the oven to 400, scrub the sweet potatoes under running water and pierce them with a fork a few times. Pop them in the oven on a baking pan (or even just a piece of tinfoil) for 40-60 minutes (depending on their size) and voila! Dinner is served. For accompaniment, slice them open and sprinkle with coarse salt and pepper, and (if you feel like it) a dollop of butter or sour cream. Or do what I do and pour a little orange juice over them, and top with caramelized onions. Just be prepared to die from deliciousness-overload.

photo credit: Real Simple

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Pretty Viddy

This music video from Israeli artist Oren Lavie is so creative and beautiful to look at. I spotted it on Creature Comforts blog and had to share it with you people. Makes me want to take a nap.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Blog Spotlight: GOOP

While more of an e-newsletter than a blog, I feel compelled to throw some positive attention toward Gwyneth Paltrow's website, GOOP (the name is based on her initials). Each week, she tackles a topic of her choosing from travel to child rearing to romantic recipes, and it's a fun read which I think would definitely appeal to readers of this blog. Poor Gwyneth has been taking quite a beating in the media for GOOP, including this article in the New York Times this weekend, in which she is accused of venturing into intellectual territory for which she has no qualifications as an expert. But I can't blame a gal for loving her life and wanting to share her thoughts with others, qualifications or not.

In fact, I can relate.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Wedding Dress Success (with Houseguest Blogger Lea)

My life-long buddy Lea was in town visiting this weekend (and we all know what that means). She's a physics grad student and was in Baltimore for some genius conference and made the jaunt up to search for the perfect dress for her upcoming wedding, and I was happy to host and accompany her on the search. I wanted to have her do a post about "Cocktail Party Physics" so I could use her to sound smart, but she opted for wedding dress shopping tips instead. And since I once worked at a bridal magazine and was I bride not that long ago myself, I figured I could pipe in on this one.

me: How do you suggest a bride begin the search for her perfect dress?
Lea: The first step is to look at bridal magazines and tear out the dresses you like. Pull it out even if you only like one detail, like the lace or the shape of the skirt. You'll start to get a sense for what you like, and, equally importantly, what you don't. Keep in mind your own body shape, and the style and formality of your wedding- a ballgown with a cathedral-length train will be out of place at a wedding in a park.
me: What next?
Then make an appointment at a just one bridal shop, and casually try on a few dresses. Bring some of your inspiration to show the consultant, but don't be a stickler. Let the consultant make recommendations for what she thinks will look good on you, but also walk the floor and pull out a few dresses you want to try on.
me:And be open-minded.
Lea: You and I had similar experiences- we both thought we would never wear a strapless wedding dress...
me: because you're well-endowed on top, and me for the opposite reason...
Lea:...and we both ended up finding out that, when they are well-made with the proper boning and structure in the bodice, strapless dresses are extremely flattering on anyone.
me: Right, in the end, my wedding dress was strapless. What should a bride do next?
Lea: If you find dresses you really like but don't quite love, write down the designers' names and do some additional research into their line.
me: has a really great database of almost every bridal designers dresses from the last few years.
Lea: The designers' websites all have "where to buy" lists, but most bridal shops only have a few of each designer's dresses, so if you want to see the full line, it's a good idea to find a showroom. If you really love a particular designer it may be worth traveling (like I did) to the showroom or flagship store- if you are going to spend thousands of dollars on a dress, it's worth spending a couple hundred to make sure you find the right one. Most bridal consultants will tell you about all the alterations you could have done to the dress- adding lace or sleeves, or whatever, but I think you should really avoid that.
me: When we were dress shopping we saw some women getting dress fittings who were freaking out because the alterations to the original design were not what they had pictured. There are so many great dresses out there- you can find something amazing that will suit your needs without having to drastically change it. What are other tips for dress shopping?
Lea: Bring a friend or family member whose opinion and style you trust. Don't bring more than 1-2 people, though, because everyone wants to be helpful, but that many voices and opinions can become overwhelming. And wear underwear that won't be a distraction under the dresses, but that you don't mind those people seeing you in. If you are shy, it's totally acceptable to request that your friends wait outside the dressing room.
me: You can even request a small private dressing room when you make the appointment, so the consultant sets you up that way.
Lea: And try to buy a dress from a consultant that you like working with and trust. At the very least she is going to be zipping you into dresses at your appointment, and most likely, you will end up working with her for alterations and payment. Some of the consultants come at you with a used-car-salesman kind of vibe where they really pressure you to buy right then. A good one will encourage you to try on other options and let you take your time in making up your mind.
me: How do you get a good deal?
Lea: Even if you find the dress of your dreams, don't just plop down the cash right then- do a little research. In this economy, it's also worth asking for a deal. I find that I am frequently offered discounts without asking- the prices are usually kind of negotiable. Also, find out if the designer will be having a trunk show soon- the bridal shop will usually give a discount during the show, and may throw in other perks, like a free veil, or having the dress made-to-measure. I think that floor samples are only a good deal if they are in amazing shape. A dry cleaner isn't going to be able to turn a dirty, ripped dress into something new.
me: Also, since I bought my dress in New York, and had my dress shipped to California (where my wedding was), I was able to avoid paying sales tax.
Lea: After you buy the dress, follow up with the consultant a few times to find out when you should expect it to come in.
me: It can normally take anywhere from 2-6 months.
Lea: But there have been a few scams recently where people discovered that the bridal shops never placed the order for their dresses, and just pocketed the money, so also read online reviews of your bridal shop before you buy.
Me: Very scientific.

Note: The dresses above are from (left to right), Carolina Herrera, J. Crew, Jenny Packham and Oscar de la Renta. For those interested, Lea is deciding between two gorgeous dresses that she tried on in while in New York. My work here is done...

Friday, February 20, 2009

Extreme Makeover: Ottoman Edition

When we first moved into our new place, we searched high and low for the perfect oversize leather ottoman for the living room. We wanted it to serve as a dining table, a footrest and extra seating (not all at the same time). We had visions of romantic dinners by the fireplace (okay, the TV), and parties filled to overflowing with our favorite people.
Finally we found one we could afford, which has the added bonus of storage on the inside, from Ballard Designs. It came in a variety of fabrics (and they will send swatches for free), but alas, not leather. Being the good compromisers that we are, we begrudgingly opted for a pretty red twill that matched our rug.
Fast forward three months later, and that twill is already stained (from the now-disgusting-seeming combination of food and people's feet), and faded from the bright afternoon sunlight in our living room.
Luckily I have a mom who's a genius, and she knows how to reupholster, but I learned in a morning, and honestly, anyone could do it. Here are some good general instructions. We spent Superbowl Sunday stretching and tacking the leather over the red fabric, resulting in an ottoman that is way more sharp-looking and durable (the dimpling on the forward-left corner is where the "brand" is on the leather, which we kept intentionally). The rattan tray is from Williams-Sonoma Home.
In this economy, it's good to remember that with a little elbow grease you can transform the things you already have.
Check out more furniture rehab on one of my fave blogs, Design Sponge.

P.S. Look forward to fun houseguest blogging from my friend (and bride-to-be) Lea, on Monday!

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Baby Spinnage

For my sister-in-law's baby shower a couple weeks ago, I made a mix of songs that have the word "baby" in the title (or with a new parent theme). I thought I would share it with you, in case you're planning a shower, or just happen to like hearing the word "baby" a lot.

I tried to make the mix diverse (hence the word mix), and conversation-friendly. I promise it really isn't as annoying as you might think-it took most of the guests a while to even notice the theme.

Souperior Supper

After a long weekend spent drinking wine, staying up late and eating greasy food (oh, yeah, and skiing), my hubster and I are ready for a little healthful detox this week. Given the "wintry mix" weather we are having, I thought I would mix up a big batch of wholesome, delicious, vegetable soup. Vegetable soup is so easy to make, is a great way to use up wilty vegetables, and it tastes so much better than canned soup (and it's so much better for you). Plus, if you make a nice big batch you won't have to cook again until you run out or get sick of it! You can sprinkle Parmesan on top if that's your thing, and make some sourdough toast or a green salad to accompany it for a simple supper. It's soup-er!

I adapted a recipe from Everyday Food (where this photo came from) and combined it with one from Alton Brown for my own twist. You really can't make a mistake so go wild! (Or at least as wild as you can get when we're talking about vegetable soup).

You will need:
2 tbsp. olive oil
2 cups thinly sliced leeks (only use the white part), or chopped onions
4 garlic cloves minced
salt and pepper
3 cans (14.5 oz each) vegetable or chicken broth
1 can (28 oz) diced tomatoes with juice, or 4 cups chopped fresh tomatoes
1 tablespoon tomato paste (optional)
1-2 cups each whatever fresh or frozen veggies you have lying around, such as celery, carrots, corn, green beans, peas, lima beans, yellow squash, potatoes, zucchini, name it. Just be sure to chop the large veg into smaller pieces, obv.

What you do:
Heat the oil in a large pot over medium heat. Add leeks or onions and garlic and season with salt and pepper. Cook until the onions are translucent (like 5 minutes).
Add broth, tomatoes, tomato paste, and three cups of water to the pot. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer uncovered for about 20 minutes. Feel free to watch TV or something during this time.
Add veggies to the pot, and return to a simmer. Cook, uncovered, until all the veggies are tender (roughly another 20 minutes).

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Better Butter

If you ask me, butter is proof that there is a God. Anything that is the key ingredient in making croissants and pie crusts moist and flaky, and can make anything, from vegetables to roast turkeys taste so rich and creamy must be heaven-sent.

When I was three years-old, I once was caught sneaking a stick of butter from the fridge and eating it like popsicle. That's how much I love butter. And my favorite butter of all is Plugra. Plugra has a higher fat content than other domestically-produced butters (82% instead of 80%), which reduced the amount of water in it, resulting in 2% more extra deliciousness in any dish. Seriously- baked goods rise better, and the butterfat melts faster, making it superior for all baking and cooking.

I recommend cooking with unsalted butter, which allows you to control the amount of saltiness in your food more precisely by adding it separately. Plus, most baking calls for unsalted butter, and using salted instead can really mess up the recipe.

I usually keep about a stick's worth (1/2 cup) soft on the counter for cooking and spreading on toast (then sprinkle with coarse sea salt- yum!), and at least 2 or 3 extra packs in the fridge. You know- for snacking.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Happy President's Day!

"I happen temporarily to occupy this big White House. I am living witness that any one of your children may look to come here as my father's child has."
Abraham Lincoln

Friday, February 13, 2009

A Sweet Treat

Whatever your plans are for Valentine's Day tomorrow, I am sure they could be improved by some insanely delicious chocolate truffles. I watched the Barefoot Contessa (one of my absolute faves) make these the other day and have been dreaming of whipping some up since then. It's my favorite kind of thing to make- a fool-proof simple recipe that yields impressive and fancy-seeming results. Whether you're trying to impress your sweetheart, or drowning your loneliness in chocolate (hey, I calls 'em like I sees 'em), these little beauties are sure to do the trick.

You will need:
1/2 pound good bittersweet chocolate (recipes like this are where good ingredients really shine!)
1/2 pound good semisweet chocolate
1 cup heavy cream
2 tablespoons Grand Marnier or other orange liquor, optional
1 tablespoon prepared coffee
1/2 teaspoon good vanilla extract
Confectioner's sugar or cocoa powder or both

What to do:
1. Chop the chocolates finely with a sharp knife. Place them in a heat-proof mixing bowl.

2. Heat the cream in a small saucepan until it just boils. Turn off the heat and allow the cream to sit for 20 seconds. Pour the cream through a fine-meshed sieve into the bowl with chocolate. With a wire whisk, slowly stir the cream and chocolates together until the chocolate is completely melted. Whisk in the Grand Marnier, if using, coffee, and vanilla. Set aside at room temperature for 1 hour.

3.With 2 teaspoons or a melon-baller, spoon round balls of the chocolate mixture onto a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Refrigerate for 30 minutes, until firm. Roll each dollop of chocolate in your hands to roughly make a round ball. Roll in confectioners' sugar, cocoa powder, or both. These will keep refrigerated for weeks, but serve at room temperature.

Or pack several of them in a cute box (like this one from Martha) and give some of these sweets to the sweet thing you're sweet on.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

I Want One

My brother sent me a link to this video and I thought it had to be fake, but then I saw it on TV the other day. My fingers are itching to buy buy buy because I don't want a boring tuna OR a boring life.

Here's my hesitation, though- all the veggies seem to be cut down to a smaller size with a knife before they go in the SlapChop. Doesn't that defeat the purpose?

I do have some frustrations I'd like to slap slap slap away, though.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Blog Spotlight...Dinner Tonight

So guys, since I draw so much inspirato from the lovely blogs I read regularly, it seems almost hypocritical not to share those resources with you guys, too. Hence, a new feature. Check out the "fave blogs" links on the right side column (if you scroll down)- all of their writers are so amazing, and I am always finding new blogs that make me awed by people's creativity and thoughtfulness, and simultaneously, super jealous of their genius. I mean, it's just not fair. What's fun, though, if you have, like, a few days to kill, is to click on one of the blogs I like, and then click on one of the blogs they link to, and so on and so on for hours and hours. You'll be amazed at how much you'll learn.

The first blog to which I'll direct your attention is Dinner Tonight, the blog by the authors of Martha Stewart's Everyday Food Magazine. Whenever I am totally out of ideas or intensely bored by everything I can think of to cook for dinner, I immediately go to this website. The recipes are all simple, made from easy-to-find ingredients (sometimes I don't even have to go shopping), and with easy to follow directions. And almost all of them can be made in under an hour. The editors post a new dinner recipe every day, so it'll keep things fresh for ya.

If you are a fan of other blogs you think I might like, please let me know!

PS. Happy Birthday, Daddy! XOXO

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

I heart...Palm Beach Style!

Palm Beach is known for its distinctive style- both in decorating and in fashion- and I happen to be a fan. It seems to me that true Palm Beach style is the love child of casual and comfortable beachiness and gilded ornate opulence, with a dose of hallucinatory Technicolor thrown in. While I have been known to sport a Lilly Pulitzer print or two in my day (but never more than one at a time), I tend to prefer Palm Beach in its subtler incarnations- the beauty that results from taking the natural beauty of coral, palms, seashells and sand and elevating them as objets (that's French for objects), of using heavenly silks in simple beachy stripes, or of framing a rustic print of sea creatures in a gorgeous gold frame.

I love this nautilus shell on a mohogany stand ($100). It goes to show that sometimes things from nature are more elegant than anything we humans could come up with.

This sea urchin lamp from Horchow is on sale for $172, with free shipping when you use the code "lovehc". I love the coral-colored shade on this sucker.

These colorful graphic wallpapers would be great in a bathroom. The yellow bamboo pattern is from Woodson and Rummerfield's for $88/ roll. The green lattice is from Ballard Designs new line of wallpapers for $119/double roll.

It wouldn't be a Palm Beach posting without a little Lilly thrown in- this is the dress I am lusting after in the new Spring collection. It's $278- but I'm hoping that the poor economy combined with the power of prayer will get this puppy on sale in time for Easter.

Monday, February 9, 2009

Palm Beach-y Keen

While a lot of you were enjoying a nearly-record warm spell in the Northeast this weekend, my husband and I got a taste of some clouds and cool temps in Palm Beach, Florida. The sun didn't really break through until mid-day Sunday, but we rushed poolside and I still managed to get a little sunburn. And I'd still take my weekend over yours- no offense.

We stayed at the Breakers Resort, which is a gorgeous old-school luxury spot that's been around for 100 years. Here, I'm standing in the long entry to the hotel (and no, I'm not pregnant or putting on weight- a gust of wind made my blouse fly out like that- I probably should have photoshopped). While resort vacations might seem like an unnecessary luxury these days, there are tons of great deals to be had all over the warm-weather world. Check out or for surprisingly good deals on hotels and plane tickets.

While one might feel compelled to never leave the resort (there are croquet and bocce courts and a spa and an insane breakfast buffet that costs a majillion dollars and 50 swimming pools- okay, five), it would be a shame not to take in the spectacle of the town of Palm Beach.

Worth Avenue is home to almost every major luxury retailer, and the shops are tucked into pretty arcade gardens or under pastel-striped awnings, making for very pleasant window shopping (or actual shopping, you high roller, you). Even the pooches are pampered in Palm Beach- there are little doggie drinking fountains all over town!

And there are tons of great spots to eat (and not all of them a majillion dollars...) We ate at Cucina dell'Arte, a great Italian spot which turns into really fun bar after hours.

It felt terrific to grab my guy and split town for a couple of days of real downtime (especially since we'll be spending Valentine's Day in Utah skiing with a group 0f 20 friends! Fun? Yes. Romantic? No.)

More on Palm Beach Style later this week!

Friday, February 6, 2009

Hard(ly) Boiled Eggs

Not since the Egg Cream (a beverage that contains neither egg nor cream) has a food item been so mis- named as the poor hard-boiled egg. That's because to make the best (non-rubbery, no green/gray yolk) hard-boiled eggs, you really shouldn't boil them barely at all. That's right- you heard me, barely any boiling, people.

Place the eggs in the bottom of a saucepan (room temperature eggs are less likely to crack than cold ones) and run enough cold water over them to cover them by 1 inch. If you want you can add a teaspoon of salt to the water, to make them easier to peel. This sounds gross, but eggs that you've had in your fridge for a week or so will also peel a lot more easily than super-fresh ones.

Place the pan over medium-high heat and bring just to a boil. Immediately cover and turn off the heat. For hard-cooked eggs, let sit, covered, for 17 minutes (for soft-cooked eggs let sit for 5 minutes), then drain the hot water, and run cold water over the eggs until cooled (or throw a bunch of ice cubes in with them).

Keep them refrigerated, and they'll be good for at least a week. I love a soft-boiled egg with salt and pepper and a slice of good toast for a simple, easy, and delicious breakfast (or even lunch). I throw hard-boiled eggs into salads and eat them raw for a snack. I also make a mean egg-salad, and heavenly deviled eggs (ha-get it?), but those recipes are topics for another day. Let's just master the basics first, shall we?

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Presto Chain-jo!

What's better than buying new jewelry? Reinventing the jewelry you already have! For free! Almost any bracelet can be changed into a necklace really easily (and then changed right back with no problem), using things you already have at home. If you have a pretty chain (maybe something that has a removable pendant on it), simply attach the claw end of the chain's clasp to the hoop end of the bracelet's, and the claw end of the bracelet's to the hoop end of the chain's. If the hoop is too thick to fit in the claw (like on the acorn bracelet/chain combo above), just thread the claw through the hoop and clasp it to its own chain.

Or, for something more romantic looking, thread a length of pretty ribbon through the hoop and claw clasps and tie pretty bows or knots with the ends. Most ribbons will hold with no problem, but if your ribbon is really slippery and your bracelet is heavy, you might need to use a needle and thread to put one quick stitch in each bow to prevent it from untying (or just opt for a simple knot instead). Once the bows/knots are how you want them, trim the ribbon ends at pretty slants or in "v"s.

I discovered this trick when I wanted to wear my mom's charm bracelet (pictured above), but found it too noisy to wear around my wrist while typing at a computer (or, rather, my office-mates did). In the end, I found that as a necklace it's even more, well, charming, to wearer and office-mates alike.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Pantry Perfection

One of the things I've learned about myself through the process of, well, being me, is that having organized thoughts doesn't necessarily translate to being an organized person (and I am sure my husband would agree). Just because you own a label maker and spend obscene amounts of time and money at the Container Store does not mean that your things will just naturally put themselves away properly and attractively. I know, it's a harsh reality. And it's one I have come face to face with multiple times within the last three months as I stood before my pantry cabinets in utter despair and desperation. "Where oh where is the almond extract?," I cried, as I rummaged through cluttered and messy cabinet after cabinet. And, "I wonder if we have any canned tomatoes," I pondered as I stared into the daunting depths of my corner cabinet, before going out and buying three more cans which I promptly put into the abyss and could never find again. Well, today, I finally put a stop to all of that foolishness. I pulled everything out of my kitchen pantry cabinets and cleaned, consolidated, reorganized, re-shelved and labeled. I had some shaming moments (who knew we had four honey bears?), and a big cathartic throwing-out of the expired, gross or nearly empty, and now I have cabinets that I actually think make sense. After blowing the dust off of it, I used my label maker to label the tops of all of my spices where I can actually see them, so I don't have to pull them all out to find the one I need. I also made a list of what goes on each shelf, which I taped to the back of the cabinet door. I left space on it so I can make additions and notes, which I'll replace when they get too messy. So next time I'm headed to the store and I think "do I already have a jar of dried thyme leaves?" I can look at the list and see- ah, yes, I already have two.The kitchen mid-cleanup. I only show this to you as a form of penance, because the first step is admitting you have a problem. I'm not trying to candy-coat this for you, people- it was an ugly situation.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Shower Hour

There are a lot of reasons why I can't wait for Winter to be over and Spring to come, but the biggest by far is the much- anticipated arrival of my first baby niece in March. This past Saturday I co-hosted a baby shower for my brother and sister-in-law that only increased my impatience to meet this little person!
The party was nontraditional in a lot of ways- it was co-ed and there was no big present-opening- both of which made it a lot more fun and festive than a typical baby shower. But the sentiment was the same- everyone was there to share their excitement and welcome this little girl to the world.

I made these little felt baby booties as one of my little gifts- they were remarkably easy to sew on a sewing machine. It's hard to imagine the feet small enough to fit inside them. Click here to download the pattern.

I also made these cute bird's nest cupcakes for the shower (among several other desserts). For the cake, I used this Coconut Cupcake recipe from Martha Stewart (I got it from the current issue which has a whole feature on cupcakes). I used my own basic buttercream frosting recipe (1 stick butter, 2 cups confectioner's sugar, 1/4 cup milk, 1 teaspoon vanilla), and topped it with a toasted coconut "nest" and little chocolate eggs (or you could use jelly beans, instead).

For party favors, I wrapped store-bought chocolate bars with labels I printed featuring the baby pics of my bro (blue) and sister-in-law (pink). I think this would be a sweet favor for a birthday party or bridal shower, too ( it helps that both of them were really cute babies).

My SIL's mom made a huge Italian feast, and her friends decorated with the cutest clothesline strung with baby clothes (new ones and special things that had been saved from when she was a baby) and everyone toasted the baby with champagne and peach "belly-ni" cocktails. I don't think anyone missed the gift opening.

Monday, February 2, 2009

Best Beds (with Houseguest Blogger My Mom)

In the midst of an action-packed weekend that included my sister-in-law's baby shower, reupholstering an ottoman, rehab-ing a wood table, and having friends over to watch the Superbowl last night (more on all those topics later this week), I managed to convince my mom that for the privilege of sleeping on my Murphy bed, she was obligated to contribute to the blog (in addition to all of the aforementioned projects I conned her into). Among her many talents, the woman is famous for making a seriously comfortable and luxurious bed, and she's helped me turn my own into a downy dreamy cloud, so I asked her to share some tips with us.

Me: Starting from the bottom, what are the layers that go into a really comfy bed?
Mom: You can make a pretty comfortable and beautiful bed, even if all you've got is your old mattress from college. I recommend getting a 2" memory foam mattress pad (you don't need to buy the fancy brands- you can get one pretty cheap from, and covering that with a featherbed mattress pad (or you can use an old comforter, if you have an extra).

Cover all of that with an old fitted sheet (just make sure the pocket is deep enough to accommodate the extra padding underneath). That sheet will hold everything together, will keep your mattress pads and mattress clean, and is a snap to throw in the wash when needed, unlike a mattress pad which is too bulky to go in most washing machines.

Then, over that put another nice fitted sheet (the one you're actually gonna sleep on)- having all that stuff underneath will stretch the fitted sheet nice and tight creating a comfy smooth bottom layer. And when you wash and change your sheets, you can just pull this one off, and the one underneath will hold the rest of your bedding together.

Then lay the flat sheet on top of that one "face down". In the winter, I'd cover that with a nice wool blanket and a blanket cover or bedspread (again, so the easy-to-wash bedspread or cover will keep the hard-to-wash blanket clean). Fold about 6-8" of the top sheet over, covering the top edge of the blanket, for a pulled-together look.

Tuck in all the layers with "hospital corners" at the foot of the bed (click here for an illustration), to keep everything firmly in place.

I also always put a nice feather comforter in a duvet cover folded at the foot of the bed, or you can pull it up and use it instead of a bedspread. In an apartment, I would opt for the less-expensive summer weight comforters, since you can use it all year with the addition of another blanket for especially cold nights. Also, if you share your bed with someone, it's not a bad idea to go one size up for top sheets, blankets and comforters- you'll avoid fights over stolen covers.

For pillows, everyone has their own personal favorites, but whatever they are, cover them with removable pillow protectors to make them last longer and stay cleaner. A couple of shams, or nice big Euro shams propped up against the headboard or wall will make your bed look like it's right out of a fancy hotel.

Me: How do you choose the best sheets?
When it comes to buying sheets, my rule is that you can't go wrong with pure white cotton (or even linen). White always looks crisp, is so much easier to maintain, won't fade, and you can always use a little bleach on it if you fall asleep with a ballpoint pen in your hand. In the end they will last you so much longer than colors, which always get wrecked (this is my rule about bath towels, too).

I only use natural fabrics- I don't ever put synthetics on a bed because they just don't let your body "breathe" right. Cotton, linen, down and wool are my favorite bedding materials, but there are good bamboo options now, too.

I think that thread-count thing is a real rip-off. The best way to find nice soft sheets is to go to the store and feel them for yourself. I think the Company Store, Restoration Hardware, Pottery Barn, and Garnet Hall all have nice affordable bedding, but I say go to an outlet store first and get a bargain, if you've got one near you. For fancy things, I love Schweitzer Linens, or I find fabulous old embroidered and monogrammed linen sheets on Ebay for something truly special. They feel great, aren't at all difficult to care for, and those old things are so beautiful and so well-made that they last forever.

Me: How do you care for your bedding?
Using removable covers that you can throw in the wash goes a long way. When you wash your sheets every week or so, spot treat them before you wash them in nice hot water (to kill dust mites and really get out any soiling). Then, take them out of the dryer while they are still a little damp (or hang them out to dry if you can) and fold them neatly to prevent them from getting wrinkly. Stack them with bars of nice-smelling soaps or sachets.
When you put the sheets on the bed, use a spray mister (I like the industrial spray bottles) to spritz the top sheet with a light misting of water. Then run your hand over the sheet, gently smoothing out the wrinkles. After about 5 minutes the sheet will have dried completely crisp and flat and it will look like you were ironing all afternoon. You can do the same thing to your duvet cover and pillowcases (and even a men's dress shirt, in a pinch).

Also, not to be too much of a mom here, but making your bed every day will keep your bed feeling fresh, clean and pulled-together longer. It's a simple pleasure getting into a made bed each night.

Me: Any tips for taking care of house guests?
Mom: On a guest bed, try to have at least one soft and one firm pillow. And I like to put out a few things by the bed to help guests sleep: Hearos ear plugs, an eyemask, some water, and a bottle of Schiff Knock-Out vitamins.

Me: ...And don't make them write your blog for you.
Mom: Right.