Love is a Canvas

Love is a canvas furnished by nature and embroidered by imagination

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-Voltaire

Happy Valentine’s Day

Dinner Party for 8 and Boss

When you’ve been in the working world over 20 years, you have a bunch of types of bosses; good ones, fair ones, maybe a terrible one or two and every once in a while, if you’re lucky–you have a boss who you want to invite to your home for dinner.

I count myself as very fortunate to be in the later position right now. I really admire my boss and his wife, who is a New York Times best selling cookbook author, I may add…no pressure there!  Plus, we love throwing a dinner party every so often–especially in the winter when we all need a little something to look forward to.

First, we start the process by pondering the menu.  We peruse Food & Wine for mid-winter comfort food recipes and troll the internet for inspo.

Found it! We decide on a Cream Spinach Stuffed Beef Tenderloin (who doesn’t love the idea of two dishes in one?), Crispy Herbed Potatoes and airy but tangy cheese Gougeres.

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Next, it’s time to consider the table/decor concept.  I typically start with a floral color palette as inspiration

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Trader Joes usually has a good selection and the prices leave me feeling un-guilty when loading the cart up.  I also got the party tip from a friend that Costco has really chic $20 arrangements, naturally I had to pick up a couple. I repurposed this hollow log with 3 bright fuschia colored plants and some chartreuse colored moss as a centerpiece.

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Once I’ve decided on the flowers, time to think about linens.  A crisp white table cloth provides a blank slate for oh so many possibilities!

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Because I never seem to find exactly what I’m looking for in “traditional napkins” without breaking the bank, or finding something too delicate, many times I look for deals on kitchen towels, which are often sold in multipacks. I don’t believe in matchy matchy, so I alternate with different colors and patterns.

Remember winter is about layering and the table is no different.  I found these fun square gold leathery looking chargers for a steal of a price at TJ Maxx. The black and white striped ones beneath are from IKEA many years ago.

Now it’s time to cook!  First the tenderloin:  When you go to your butcher and order a 4 pound tenderloin (butterflied), you kind of feel like a badass. Or like you’re ordering the Old 96er from the movie The Great Outdoors!  But this piece of beef is for 8…

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Next, the making of the creamed spinach…the dish is rich (think heavy cream and shallots), flavorful and pretty easy to make.

Then the rolling and tying, truth be known our beautiful piece of meat had some holes in it, where some of the spinach oozed out, so we patched with bacon.  Made it delicious, but not as photogenic, so this is what it looked like in the magazine.

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I had always admired our Nantucket neighbor’s ability to make gougeres, but was slightly intimidated, as I know baking requires exactness and I’m a bit more of a cooking ad libber. At the end of the day, I figured if I couldn’t try to make them on a cold winter day–

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it might be hopeless.  So I gave it a shot…

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They were surprisingly straight forward to make and crowd pleasing.  Full disclosure, I made them again the next day as a snow day snack!

And finally any person having their boss over, obviously believes in the concept of “brownie points”…

So when one of our guests offered to bring Ina Garten’s recipe for Brownie Pudding I gladly took her up on it.  Delicious decadence for a cold winter night.

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The dinner ended with lively conversation and laughter (I was a little relieved when none of my friend’s revealed anything too incriminating to my boss!)

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Quick aside: I have been on the hunt for the perfect round dining table for a couple years.  The linear effect was good aesthetically but a bit challenging for convo.  Cross  your fingers I find “the perfect round table” someday…and if you happen to have any leads, please share!

I kid you not, we had no food left.

The next day I recapped with my mother.  We always love swapping entertaining tips and stories.  I told her how we had NO EXTRA food leftover.  I wondered if it was our superb estimation skills or that it was a winter post-hibernation hunger that was brewing, or maybe–gasp, we didn’t make enough!

She laughed and shared an episode of Mary Tyler Moore’s show when Mary had her boss for dinner and she had exactly 6 portions for the 6 people who came.  Then of course her boss took an extra portion and she had to awkwardly ask him into the kitchen to put it back, then he comes back to the table puts it back and declares “he’s suddenly not very hungry.” Ha.

Luckily, we didn’t have to ask anyone to take a smaller portion, but maybe we’ll make a little extra next time;)  Rest in peace Mary Tyler Moore.

Happy Monday everyone!

 

 

The Things We Do For Our Kids…

It’s post-holiday season so I pull out my over-sized wall calendar and start populating the activities within the first month of a new year. First, a few birthdays..appointments…and gulp–coming right up, the dreaded “sleepover” with my daughter’s girl scout troop at the Aquarium that I got an email about months ago… 

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A “sleepover” at the Aquarium you ask? Yes, that’s right.  A “sleepover” at the aquarium.  

Why the quotations you ask?  Because this really is the misnomer of all time, there is no sleep at this.  

I scribble it onto the calendar (in pencil), now it is real.  The dread begins to set in though it is 5 days away.

First, my thoughts gear towards blame when I think about the parents who originally conceived of such events?  Not our troop leader! She’s a Saint, as are all troop leaders, and I’m pretty sure she was also equally dreading the “sleepover.” These wacky events have been going on for years at a host of museums, zoos, etc. The kids start talking about it amongst themselves and suddenly it becomes a “my parents never took me to Disneyland” type of phenomenon, and in some kind of weak moment a parent acquiesces to such an idea.  WHY????

Next, I try to think about how I can get out of it.  I get pretty creative with my excuses. Will I disappoint my daughter for life?(who of course, knows. see the above chatter amongst the kids, that practically becomes (sub)urban legend) Probably.

Then my dear friend/neighbor asks me to chaperone her daughter, also in our troop, who wouldn’t otherwise be able to attend because she is in Africa, helping to build schools. Truly. Talk about an excuse, geeesh! You owe me L.T.

I am officially on the hook.

I start projecting my worry to my husband, who is surprised by my level of apprehension.  He’s accompanied our daughter’s on many a camp-out through Dad/Daughter events where cards are played late into the night in their cabins (with proper bunks/beds, I may add!) along with their flasks of hooch and icy coolers of beer to cope with the daddy snores throughout the night.  I assure him, there will be no such adult entertainment at the aquarium, there is a strict–no booze rule.

I better start my pre “sleepover” training.  I try to grab a few extra minutes of zzzs where I can, I start googling native marine life to our area (just kidding, I didn’t really do this). I try to really savor that nip of wine at night, I dream about which spa i may go to after this is all over.  I get my “sleepover” aquarium game face on.

I carefully read the instructions and packing suggestions on the permission slip.  Yup, we are sleeping on the floor. The floor where hundreds, probably thousands of aquarium visitors walk daily.

There is some fine print…oh thank heavens, we can bring an air mattress.  I give thanks to the Gods at Amazon Prime and the heavy plastic cushion of sleep arrives in the nick.

It’s game day, we are packed.  My daughter and her friend are psyched.  We drive, we park, I become a pack mule with sleeping bags, blankets, flash light, beer (again, kidding–but I did really wish) as we tote our gear into the aquarium.

We are to sleep in the “otter room” though there are no otters, as the exhibit is under construction (wonder where the otters went?)–still the room is kinda smelly. There are turtles and eels (gross ones I may add) in loud bubbling tanks and a display of light houses with operating strobe type lights. A perfect sleeping environment!

Another troop gets assigned to the shark room, I better not complain.  Can you imagine? I’ve seen Jaws too many times people.  I begin to wonder about those poor otters…?

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The night’s activities commence.  The girls craft, tour, run around in their pajamas–blissfully unaware of how dirty everything probably is, just aware that they are the only ones in the aquarium.  They are delighted.  The moms exchange half smiles with each other and I secretly wonder how much Ambien is stashed in their bags?

Milk & cookies are served around 10:30 p.m. and you can tell the kids think this is the. best. night. ever.  Wine and cheese would have been a nice touch.  I am just sayin’.

It’s time to set up our “beds.”  The jockeying of positioning for mom’s and daughter’s sleep area commences, the mattress inflation is a frenzy.  And yup, we end up right under the turtle tank.  I shouldn’t complain too much, another mom is next to us on the floor.  She didn’t read the fine print, I guess.  Sucka, I actually really did feel bad for her.

We brush our teeth…in the public restrooms.  The men’s rooms were also open for the night as no men were there.  The girl’s thought this was rather thrilling.

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But that’s the thing, we are in the lighthouse room, so the lights never really go out.  Maybe that’s what happened with the otters, insane sleep deprivation due to the lighthouse exhibit?

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The kids have no intention of sleeping. They run around the room like little aquarium nymphs.

It’s 1:00 a.m. now–I make several threats to my daughter involving leaving if she does not sleep.  (She loves telling our family/friends this after the fact, l.o.l., and I can’t deny it.)

My head is wrapped with my puffy coat over my eyes/ears for a turban type of effect to drown out the turtle bubbler/lighthouses.

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It’s 2 a.m.  That bubbler really makes me feel like I have to pee.  I don’t want to get up, we are on the 2nd floor and have to take an elevator down to the public restrooms.  Plus, the aquarium nymphs, a.k.a, our daughters, seem to finally have settled down.

It’s 7 a.m. There is an announcement over the loud speaker that it is “wake up” time.  I wonder if I slept at all? Don’t think so. It was kind of like one of those airplane naps, where you felt like you slept for 5 minutes and were really just super aware that you are trying to sleep on a plane.  I was just really aware that I was sleeping next to eels.

Time to pack our stuff up so the aquarium can get ready for the next day of ticket buyers who will soon be coming through.  We are all zombies and like the plane, felt as though we had just landed from the “red eye.”

We quickly eat breakfast and watch the seals eat theirs.

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It’s over, we/I survived.  I am amazed I do not get a speeding ticket on the way to Dunkin Donuts.

My daughter got a badge.  I think I should get one too!

I’m afraid to peek at the calendar for February…

Disclaimer: Writing this post absolves me of any future invitations of kiddy campouts.  

 

Circling the Wagons

First, from me and my family, Happy New Year!

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Oh my goodness, it’s been quite while since I’ve last posted.

I see a draft in my box saved called “When You Get More Than You Give” which was about our friend Melanie from inner city Bronx who came to live with us for a week (what a transformative experience it was) and the kid who I mentored as a young 20 year old living in Chicago nearly 20 years ago from Cabrini Green named Melvyn (I searched high and low for a picture of him, but don’t think I have one). I still wonder where he may be now and how he may be doing…But, as you can guess, the post was about getting more than you give, which definitely occurred through both of those experiences.  Since so much time has passed since blogging last,  I’ve decided to keep that post be buried into my private archives. Some things are best left there.

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But there is a segue way here, it is a new year and always a chance for a little introspection.  So many people have expressed their feelings of contempt of last year.  An election that didn’t go the way most people I know wanted…too many unexplained violent shootings, acts of terror and other scary phenomenon.  Let’s be honest, it was a bit of a malaise, that 2016.

For me, I had a weird/frenzied December mixed with traveling, gift buying, decorating, consuming…you know the typical holiday chaos, while a health scare (that ended up being nothing) somewhat consumed me, much of the month.  Now that the dust/tinsel has settled (and again, thank god that scare amounted to nothing–once your health or that of a loved one is in question, everything feels murky), hopefully some of the unsavory-ness of last year is behind us, I finally have a moment.

I think about what I hope for in this year ahead.  Hopes for myself, for my family, for the world.

It really amounts to “Circling the Wagons.”

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A friend/philanthropist who I really admire used this phrase with me recently when describing how her family reset after the financial crisis, in terms of setting their charitable priorities.  Not to be used in the sense of fending off attacks, or what not–but just reigning it in and putting into focus that of which is most important.  The phrase sticks with me.

I’m aiming to put a circle around my priorities or the wagons:)  Personally I’m striving for focus and calm, more ability to give back to my family, friends and to those Melanie’s and Melyns of the world.

Welcome to a New Year!

 

Hearts Wide Open

A few months ago while already worn down from the end of school year shuffle and plugging in family vacations, sports camps, etc. I wondered about a summer experience that would teach us something, bond us as a family and bring us together more than any trip could.

Serendipitously around that same time I read an article in our local town paper about the Fresh Air Fund (FAF). An organization based out of NYC (been around 200 years or so) that matches inner city NYC children with host families living in “friendly towns,” a.k.a. “in the country,” like where we live, for a week.

I had a few conversations with previous host families, did a little research while including my husband and kids in the process and suddenly we were pursuing being a host family for a week this summer.

Since our summer was already jam packed with activities, there was really only one week we were free, and it was on the early side of summer. So we hurriedly tried to work with FAF to get all our ducks in a row.  But as you would imagine, there is a lot involved in making sure due diligence has been done (interviews, house tour, background checks etc.) and they weren’t able to process our application/paperwork in time for our early summer “free week.” I was a little heart broken because I already started projecting what I thought the experience would be like.

Then it happened that plans for another week changed and we were open. We were able to “match” for another week a month later. We found out the name, age, gender a few interests of the child.  We had a facilitated conference call with the child’s mother as her family is Spanish speaking.  We knew little else (including whether she spoke English very well.)

The night before I can’t tell a lie.  I was so anxious, but trying to hide it.  The kids were already making me proud though as they readied her room and made welcome signs.  We began making loose plans for the week.  I tried to not have expectations, but many many scenarios raced through my mind, I hardly slept that night.

Suddenly it was the day that the bus left Penn Station full of eager FAF kids.  Sign and balloon in hand we waited for “M.” to arrive.

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Off came the bus, this delightful little girl with a long braid, tiny body and HUGE grin.

Pretty much in the same amount of time, she walked off the bus and straight into our hearts.

We wondered if she would be shy, she wasn’t.  She was excited, and sweet as could be.  Driving down the country roads (we got a few miles before I realized she didn’t have her seatbelt on, a car is not a place where she spends much time) she immediately starts commenting on her new surroundings.  “All the green and flowers are beautiful.”  She has never been outside NYC.  We talked about Central Park and she tells me she went there on a field trip in Kindergarten.  Central Park is the closest environment that she can relate to the green of Connecticut.

We are about a mile from my house.  We see a deer on the side of the road, she shrieks with delight and the deer looks right at us.

We pull up to my house, she is confused that it is not a building.  She comes in and remarks that it is so cool that we have stairs.  She meets my girls.  There is an instant connection.  I can’t even put it into words.  Each day it deepens.

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The questions, the experiences the relating, it is such a gift.  I look forward to writing more about this wonderful person and opportunity that has again serendipitously (especially because M. was also to be matched with another family early in the summer but had a cough and needed to postpone) come into our lives

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Stay tuned as I share more about this amazing experience in vulnerability and connection.

 

 

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