Wednesday, October 28, 2009

New York State of Mind

By Elizabeth Duncan

photo from

I’m super excited to be heading to New York for the weekend. I try to go several times a year to get my “fix” – my shopping, eating, nightlife fix that is. I visited NY regularly growing up, but it wasn’t until I lived there right after college that the city truly became a part of me. This weekend, I plan to spend some quality time with one of my best friends and cheer on another friend who is running the NY marathon, while squeezing as many minutes out of the day as possible eating, shopping and partying my way around the city. New York truly is the city that never sleeps, so it shouldn’t be too hard to do! Here are just a few of the things I’m looking forward to doing this weekend:

Whenever my parents would visit me in NY we would have brunch at Blue Water Grill. Now, it's a tradition I gladly uphold.  It never disappoints. The lobster bisque and the ginger and soy-lacquered sea bass are my usual, and as a bonus, there is always somebody famous there - I’ve had the pleasure of eating next to the likes of Dame Judi Dench and Uma Thurman.

When I’m in NY, I am always torn between going back to my favorite restaurants and trying some of the amazing new places that are constantly opening. With Fall weather upon us in earnest, I am looking forward to returning to one of my favorites.  Craft is just good food (plus, I have a huge foodie crush on Tom Colicchio) - perfectly cooked seasonal items, simply presented resulting in the most satisfying dining experience.  I highly recommend the lamb ravioli and beef short ribs!

photo from Craft

I’ve never bought a single thing by Kate Spade, but recently I have been tagging pictures all over the blogosphere of her clothes, her ads and her own interior decor. I guess it just took me a while to appreciate her use of color and eclectic, yet clean pairings.  I can't wait to be inspired at her flagship store.

photo from Kate Spade

Takashimaya is a Japanese department store that I love to browse through. They always have the most interesting and unique fashion and home accents.

Now that I'm inspired, I'm ready to spend.  I actually do my best shopping at the budget-friendly trendy shops like TopShop, H&M, Mango and Zara. 

My favorite neighborhood place for drinks is ñ (33 Crosby St., no website) in SoHo. It’s the size of a closet, but the low-key vibe and fantastic sangria are perfect for tucking into a corner and catching up with friends.

photo via Yelp

As the night progresses, I love 60 Thompson for sophisticated drinks and stellar tunes.

photo from 60 Thompson

As the wee hours approach, it’s usually time for late-night drinks and dancing somewhere fabulous in the Meatpacking District (which I rely on my NY friends to lead me to as I have no clue).

I hope you have a great weekend wherever you will be!!

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

All Tied Up

By Jenna Allen

Friday, October 16, 2009

Creative Cards

By Liza Tanner

Lately I have seen some of the most creative escort cards! I love any detail that adds a personal touch, and escort cards are a great way to do so while continuing the look and color palette of a wedding in a fun, creative way. 

One of my absolute favorites was at my friend Katie’s wedding at the Audubon Naturalist Society’s Woodend Sanctuary. Her mother, Laura Anthony, is a wonderful artist, and she and her friend Nancy Murphy painted a guest’s name and a specific bird on each escort card to signify their table assignment. It was a labor of love, as was the attached favor for each guest: home-baked cookies and the recipes for the mother of the bride’s and the mother of the groom’s signature confections. The ensemble was both beautiful and delicious!

Another favorite was a creation we did with Jack Lucky of Jack Lucky Floral Design. For a summer wedding at a bride’s waterfront home in Easton, Maryland, we continued the couple’s color palette of citrus green, lemon yellow and white by creating a display of white crates filled with stephanotis blossoms and lemons pinned with leaf escort cards, which were calligraphed in a whimsical font by Kathryn Murray.

For another recent Pineapple wedding, the couple commissioned Nancy Howell to illustrate the event floorplan and calligraph the guest names and table numbers on separate sheets of paper, which were then sewn on a burlap-covered board with red yarn. The couple can also frame the drawing as a special memento from their wedding day. 

Sweet Dreams

by Elizabeth Duncan

Last Month I had the incredible opportunity to channel my inner Amy Atlas and design and produce a fabulous dessert bar for one of my wedding clients. Of course, we had a huge advantage in that the mother of the bride owns a local bakery and put herself and her staff at the whim of our creativity. We took our inspiration from several places, including pictures we found in magazines and on blogs, the bride’s navy, yellow and white color palette and subtle nautical motif, the quilted butter yellow linens we had chosen for the dinner tables and, of course, the favorite confections of the bride and groom. The final display was beautiful, whimsical and delicious!

Some of the inspirations for the dessert bar:

Photos courtesy of 1) Elegant Bride, 2) InStyle Weddings and 3, 4) Martha Stewart Weddings

My sketch of the final concept:

Assembling the dessert bar at the event:

Dessert bar sketch and photos by E. Duncan

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

My Anton Ego Moment

by Allison Jackson

Recently I had what I’ve come to call my “Anton Ego moment.” For those of you familiar with Disney Pixar’s hilarious animated adventure Ratatouille, you know what I’m talking about. For those of you who haven’t seen the movie, a brief explanation…

In Ratatouille’s version of the Paris food scene, Anton Ego is a perpetually grouchy and jaded restaurant critic feared by all and widely known as “The Grim Eater.” Ego decides he will review Gusteau’s -- once the culinary juggernaut in Paris, but now a restaurant quickly losing its luster and reputation.

A classic Ego quote from the movie occurs when he tells chef Linguini (and Linguini’s secret helper, Remy the rat) that he will be reviewing the restaurant.

“I don't like food, I love it. If I don't love it, I don't swallow.”

Ego returns the next night and is served Remy the rat’s brilliant version of the humble peasant dish, ratatouille. Ego looks at his plate curiously, takes one bite and freezes. He suddenly is transported back to his childhood days when his mother prepared the same dish in the south of France. All of Ego’s cynicism is washed away, and he sheds one solitary tear of joy.

Well, I’m not exactly the critic Ego is, but I attend my share of catering tastings -- and while always appreciative of the opportunity to be part of a tasting, let’s just say a person can only eat so many filet mignons and potatoes anna. That’s why I was so blown away by a recent tasting at Occasions Caterers.

I was at Occasions to participate in a tasting of the suggested wedding menu for Brook and Brian, a couple who will soon be relocating to Costa Rica. Eric Michael and Joel Wolke of Occasions custom-designed a fabulous, original, and intentionally unfussy menu of island-spiced pulled chicken with masa, black beans and rice and the best sweet plantains I think I have ever had. But not even the plantains prepared me for what would happen next. I was passed a platter of gorgeous late summer vegetables, a mix of kabocha squash, green beans and shiitake mushrooms. Just as I was serving myself some vegetables, I noticed they seemed to have been tossed in a sunflower seed vinaigrette. I took a bite and nearly dropped my fork.

Just like Ego, a deeply embedded food memory transported me back to my early childhood, and it was a surprisingly emotional moment for me. The chef at Occasions had served up nearly the same dressing my mother used every time she made a salad for our family. And that was pretty much every day of my young life.

Below my mother participates in a photo shoot for Better Homes and Gardens (1978), surely pretending to make the salad with sunflower seed dressing.

And also a few test Polaroids from another BHG photo shoot (circa 1976) – these featuring my mother and younger brother. As I got older, my brother became part of the reason sunflower seeds remained around. He grew up to be a baseball player, and munching sunflower seeds was a dugout ritual.

Getting back to the dish created by Occasions…even if you take away my personal connection to the sunflower seed vinaigrette, this roasted vegetable salad is the perfect addition to any fall cocktail buffet. It’s chock full of healthy stuff, colorful and delicious! Consider calling Occasions – as I did last week – and having them prepare it for you next time you are entertaining and need an impressive side dish. Or visit your local farmers’ market over the weekend, pick up whichever seasonal vegetables look good to you, roast the vegetables and toss them in this simple vinaigrette. Then sprinkle with roasted sunflower seeds. The salad will taste equally great served warm or at room temperature.

Melissa’s Dressing  (recipe courtesy of my mother)

½ cup sunflower oil or good quality olive oil

Juice from one fresh lemon, about 2 tbsp.

Kosher salt to taste

Freshly ground pepper to taste

Roasted sunflower seeds

Whisk the oil into the lemon juice gradually, in a slow stream. Salt and pepper to taste. Toss vegetables or leafy greens in dressing, and sprinkle with sunflower seeds.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Ladylike Chic

By Allison Jackson

Between Michelle Obama’s interpretation of First Lady power dressing and the gorgeous costume design on the insanely watchable AMC series Mad Men, these days I can’t escape finding myself so drawn to everything retro ladylike.

So… when I sat down at the computer a few weeks ago to peruse the new collections offered by all the best wedding gown designers, I stopped when I got to Amsale’s  Calista gown. I couldn’t stop looking at it.  It’s so simple and ladylike, yet so striking.  It reminded me of something my fashion-forward mother would have worn in the 50s, but it also reminded me of the style of some of my favorite Pineapple brides.

Cate is one of those brides.  She was married a few years ago, before Michelle Obama began to be photographed so often wearing double strand pearls and sleeveless sheaths.  But like Mrs. Obama, Cate has impeccable style.  She resembles Grace Kelly, both in her appearance and in the way she carries herself.  And in her very well-mannered way, she wrote me probably one of the nicest thank you notes I have ever received.  Not only were her words so genuine and well expressed, but she also took the time to personalize the notecard with pretty sketches of her favorite wedding details.  How thoughtful and how truly ladylike.

Cate’s wedding style absolutely suited her personal style.  I fell in love with the outfit she selected for her bridesmaids – a flouncy party skirt paired with the perfect white blouse and double strand pearls.  Cate turned a retro look into something distinctive and fresh.

It’s a minor detail, but I also loved how Cate changed into a proper going away outfit.  Notice the lovely sheath dress and effortlessly wrapped Hermes scarf. 

 Another recent bride who embraced retro ladylike style as her wedding look is Lizanne.  Elizabeth had the fortunate opportunity to work with Lizanne, and since the time the pictures became available, I have not stopped appreciating this bride’s choices in wedding style.  Lizanne’s style was feminine, formal and subtly retro.  She selected a regal palette of matte gold and sophisticated pastels – perfect for the grandeur of the Cosmos Club, which served as the reception venue.  One of my favorite details from Lizanne’s wedding was the impressive tower of champagne coupes styled by Elizabeth with the help of Liz Waylan at DC Rental.  I love the choice of the sheer organza linen atop the wrought iron table.  So dreamy.

The inspiration board below features images evoking retro ladylike style, including the aforementioned Amsale gown, as well as photos from both Cate and Lizanne’s weddings.  Enjoy!

 First Row:  Lizanne’s wedding cake by Sylvia Weinstock (photo courtesy of Lynne Brubaker); response card from Ceci New York; jeweled pumps from Southern Weddings; living room designed by Amelia Handegan from Southern Accents

Second Row:  Cate’s bridesmaids (photo courtesy of Lynne Brubaker); gown by Amsale; Lizanne’s needlepoint ring pillow (photo courtesy of Lynne Brubaker)

Third Row:  Lizanne’s bridesmaid’s bouquet designed by Dragonfly (photo courtesy of Lynne Brubaker); Grace Kelly at the Academy Awards in 1956

Fourth Row:  Limoges porcelain plate by William Yeoward; Lizanne’s champagne tower (photo courtesy of Lynne Brubaker); pink satin clutch by Franchi; Hermes silk/cashmere shawl

Friday, October 2, 2009

Snappy Happy Hour: Lift Your Spirits and Celebrate Fall

By Jenna Allen

               As temperatures begin to drop outside, my taste for dry rosés, cold citrusy Hefeweizens and icy vodka cocktails shifts to richer, full-bodied cabernets, darker nuttier ales and mixed drinks made with my all-time favorite spirit, smoky sweet bourbon. Bourbon is considered “America’s Native Spirit” and I think Autumn is the perfect time to enjoy it. With its rich layered flavors and toasty finish, it seems a perfect match for crisper days and chillier nights.
One of my favorite cocktails is the sidecar, which is traditionally made with brandy. I recently sampled it with bourbon and was delighted to discover this new twist on a classic. Purists insist that this drink must be served up in a sugar-rimmed martini glass. Instead, I suggest slipping a few ice cubes into a sugar-rimmed Ball Mason jar and serving the cocktails to your friends at your next fall bash. This is a fun and casual way to celebrate the new season.

Perfect Bourbon Sidecar (Adapted from The New York Times “The Pour”)
First, assemble the necessary equipment and ingredients. You’ll need:
A shaker
A Ball mason jar
A lot of ice
A shot glass
A lemon reamer or old school glass juicer
A strainer
A saucer of sugar
1 ounce freshly squeezed lemon juice
1 ounce good bourbon (I like Basil Hayden’s or Knob Creek)
1 ounce Cointreau
Fill the shaker all the way up with ice and put it in the freezer. Cut a lemon in half and use it to wet the rim of the mason jar. Stick the rim in the sugar and swish it around until lightly sugared. Juice the lemon through the strainer and into a shot glass. Grab the shaker and pour in the juice, a shot of bourbon and a shot of Cointreau. Put the lid on, hold on tight and shake the heck out of it. Place ice in mason jar (cubes are fine, but crushed is even better). Fill your glass up. No garnish, just drink it.

Thursday, October 1, 2009


by Elizabeth Duncan

To celebrate the start of Fall, I’m throwing an Oktoberfest Party. The first Oktoberfest occurred in Munich, in October 1810, to commemorate the marriage of Crown Prince Ludwig and Princess Therese of Saxe-Hildburghausen. Today, it is one of the most famous events in Germany and the world's largest fair, with some six million people attending every year for a smorgasbord of food, beer, and entertainment.

Courtesy of
When my family lived overseas, we had the opportunity to go to many fests in Germany. My brother and I would sport the local dress, eat gobs of delicious roast chicken, candied nuts and pretzels, sing with the oom-pah band and ride the carnival rides.

Then in college, when I was back-packing through Europe, one of the top places on my list was a beer garden in Munich – who wouldn’t love huge mugs of beer, al fresco dining, and singing soccer chants with the locals?!

I have a tiny apartment downtown, not a huge tent or beer garden, so it won’t be quite like the official celebration. Here is my recipe for a great Oktoberfest:

A sampling of some of the best German beers – including Spaten, Beck’s, Paulaner, Franziskaner.  Plus, some Riesling for the non-beer drinkers.

Photo courtesy of Sugarzine
A collection of German and Austrian beer glasses that have been “picked up” over the years.

Some hearty German fare, including Fest Chicken, assorted wursts (sausages) and chocolate pretzels.

Photo courtesy of Smitten Kitchen
And, of course, it wouldn’t be Oktoberfest without the chicken dance.

But, the most important ingredient, great company!


The Wonderful World of Etsy

By Liza Tanner

I was recently introduced to, and if you haven’t already discovered this online gem, then I highly recommend checking it out.  It’s my kind of treasure hunt.  The website is a seemingly endless but very well organized online flea market full of unique items of all varieties and prices.  Or as the owners describe it: “your place to buy and sell all things handmade.”  The site is overflowing with handmade pieces that will bring that special something to your outfit, your table, or your home!  

At first I was overwhelmed by the enormous selection on the site, but then I discovered that by clicking on “Gift Guides” at the top left of the homepage, I was directed to a selection of the Etsy staff’s favorites in an assortment of categories, from “Artful Entertaining” to “Equestrian Prep” to “Make A Statement” and more.  The guides made sifting through the site much easier.

One of my favorite finds is this peacock fascinator, which will be the perfect accessory for styling up my little black dress. 

Found in the “Paper Goods” category, these butterfly place cards will provide a delicate touch to an upcoming Pineapple wedding.

I searched for “linens” and came upon these sky blue napkins, which would be perfect for hosting a Sunday brunch on the patio.  I also clicked on the seller, LinenMe’s “shop,” and she creates the most beautiful linen tablecloths, scarves and more!

These are just a few examples of the treasures that I have found on Etsy.  Happy perusing!