brunch entertaining.

With all the brunch posting last week, I got thinking that it really is my favorite meal for entertaining. It's usually a low-key, casual get together. It's a great way to start the day. And, it usually involves butter, eggs and sugar. Really can't beat that.
I have my own personal brunch formula that makes it work, for me. It comes from lots of cookbook reading, hours obsessing over The BC and mostly, from observing my parents. Best entertainers I know.

Unless company is family... I don't try a new recipe.
I've had my share of failed meals, and I've learned the hard way that it's best to practice and make perfect before making company my test kitchen. Unless, of course, it's my family. But, even for them, trying a new recipe tries patience, which can make me crazy. I try to avoid the crazy.

Always: make something that's make-ahead friendly, with a good balance of sweet and savory.
Brunch is not always easy for one-dish wonders, but I've found a few that I stick to - and just added to the list is last week's baked french toast. Other make-ahead, simple dishes I love are lox and bagels, waffles (give someone the batter and let them go to town!), gratins (like this one) and breakfast breads like scones, muffins and coffee cake. I also try to keep the menu simple. If I am trying something new or rather involved, I pair it with something tried and true. Or even better: something store-bought.

A specialty drink makes it special.
Anything in a pitcher is pretty, be it water with lemon slices, orange juice or a cocktail. And I always have coffee and tea on hand.

Two days out: flowers; Night before: set the table and run the dishwasher. Seriously.
I like to arrange my own flowers, and if they're especially fresh, I arrange them two days before brunch, giving them enough time to really blossom and fill out. The night before, I set the table and get all the goods ready to go: the trays, the utensils and plates, serving pieces, etc. And at some point, I run the dishwasher and empty it (thanks to Eddie, on most days) so that it's ready for its duty the following day. I love waking up to a clean, perfectly put-together kitchen, all ready to party.

It's not about the table. Or the flowers. It's about the people.
A perfectly put-together kitchen is empty without the cheer and laughter of friends and family. I enjoy bringing people together, and really, breaking bread is about sharing. Like planning our wedding, it's about people, joy and love and not about the way the flowers fall in a vase.

I usually have to remind myself of that. Often.


dandelion for baby.

For months, I've been eyeing these cute soft, knitted round rattles at our local Whole Foods. I've talked myself out of buying them an impressive number of times. But, last week, I caved. I decided it was time for Mari to get rolling with these soft friends. I'm not sure who loves them more - she or me.
Turns out the Roly Polies, as they call them, come from a line of Earth-friendly baby goods, called Dandelion. The balls of happiness are crocheted by hand, using silky bamboo thread and stuffed with fibers made from corn. They're cute, good for the Earth and good for the babes and... they're machine washable.
PS: using all my will power to keep from buying the Little Ladybug this hand knitted hat.


baked french toast + yogurt-covered-fruit.

As promised, I've got the recipes from Sunday's brunch with the girls. I don't usually try a new recipe for company, but these girls are more like family. The food could totally flop and we'd just keep on talking. Plus, I had frozen waffles and eggs on standby.
I love entertaining when I can enjoy it, which means finding something that's make-ahead friendly, with little assembly required. For years, I've enjoyed The BC's Challah French Toast, and her newest french toast recipe is just that, updated - it's baked and I now give it the advantage over the original.

Mari and I whipped up the egg mixture in 10 minutes or less, which is a super bonus for someone's not-so-long attention span - oh, the fascination that comes with orange zesting! The baking dish(es) were prepped and into the oven an hour before the first guest arrived. How easy is that.
This baked french toast was fluffy and crusty, savory and sweet - just the perfect balance of everything you want for breakfast. It's a a keeper, and while I followed The BC's recipe religiously, I did add some notes to her instructions.


feb. entertaining: brunch bunch.

I'm happy to say that two months in, I'm sticking to at least one of my 2012 intentions. This month's entertaining assignment: gal pals. This public list thing is good for commitment, I tell ya.

Over the years, time spent with my best girls has gradually evolved. In our 20s, when we were roommates, girl time was all the time. Then, as some of us dove in and out of relationships, get togethers were shared over cocktails and high heels (who are we kidding - I was usually in these), sometimes tears and a good dose of Meg Ryan movies. And now, 16 years later, six marriages and three babies in the bunch, brunch is our thing. And yes, cocktails are still involved. We just start earlier.
Except on Sunday.

Now the number of pregnant women is almost equal to the number of babies (life is so good!) and so, we enjoyed a little virgin pomegranate spritzer, compliments of The BC. I got the house all cleaned - which, by the by, is one thing I actually love about entertaining: it forces the spring clean - arranged some flowers and tried a couple new recipes, starting with this one.
The Barefoot Contessa's Pomegranate Breakfast Soda
Serves: 4

16 ounces pomegranate juice
16 ounces sparking water
1/2 ounce freshly squeezed lime juice
1 tablespoon superfine sugar

Mix the ingredients together and serve over ice with a lime wedge. And maybe a stripey straw.

A quick note - I think this drink got better as it sat. I was afraid the bubbles would de-bubble but they really didn't. The later I sipped, the better it tasted. Also: double it. Everyone went in for seconds.

PS: later this week, I'll have recipes from the main course.


happy 02.14.12.

On a day like today, I can just picture myself at my little grade school desk in Mrs. Mullin's class, getting organized for the great valentine's swap with my classmates. Oh, the anticipation and excitement that came with giving and receiving homemade cards - well, let's just say, it's stayed with me.

I have always loved valentine's day, and like most things in my life, the holiday seems to get sweeter having a little one of my own.
I had so much fun getting crafty over the weekend with my little helper, and Mari dropped her first valentine cards in the mail yesterday. Can you imagine the love flowing through the U.S. Postal system today? In my mind, it's the red and pink version of the Whoville Post Office on Christmas (now that's a Post Office).

Inspired by Ashley's heart garland - a 2011 favorite - here's what we stitched together.

May your mailbox be full today. Have a lovely Valentine's!


sweet wknd workshop.

It was a little like a red and pink tornado blew through our house, for a few hours at least, on Saturday. Mari and I got to work on some valentines for her cousins and a few friends. We busted out all the really good scraps, the twine, our favorite pens and a load of rubber stamps - basically, everything we love from Paper Source, including some of last year's leftovers.

We went to town.
The finished products to come tomorrow!

PS: more v-day inspiration starts here.


let's throw a v-day party.

One of these years, I'm going to start thinking about Valentine's Day earlier and have a proper party. My mom's best friend throws one every year, just for the girls, and I just love the idea. Plus, it makes for a pretty cute theme, doesn't it?

I catalogued some pretty valentine's party inspiration, for my faux fete. That's currently scrolling through my head. I practically have the invitations designed.

Want more inspiration? Hop on over to my v-day board.

For next year, I'm dreaming of... a card-making party, like this one.


found: turkey meatloaf recipe.

If this was not your mom's french onion dip, this is your mom's meatloaf, with ground turkey, if that's your thing. It's a quick make - try 8 minutes or less, including onion chopping - with very few ingredients, compared to some other meatloaf recipes out there, and it really does taste just like my mom's... with a crisp crunch from some warmed onion, a kick from the horseradish and such good flavor from the combo of spices.
Appropriately named Mom's Meatloaf, my mom turned me onto this recipe, from a Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives stop at the South Side Soda Shop and Diner in Goshen, Indiana. Following her lead, I subbed out the ground beef with ground turkey, and instead of baking it in a loaf pan, she suggested forming the meat mixture into a loaf in a big baking dish. It forms a nice crust, and this way, you can avoid most of the grease puddles.

Mom's Meatloaf from Charity Boyd of the South Side Soda Shop and Diner, via Diners Drive-Ins and Dives
Serves 4

1 egg*
2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce
2 teaspoons prepared horseradish
1 teaspoon dry mustard
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/2 onion, very finely chopped
1 pound ground beef (or turkey*)
3/4 cup bread crumbs
3/4 cup ketchup

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

In a large bowl, mix together egg, 3 tablespoons water, the Worcestershire, horseradish, mustard, salt, pepper and onion. Add the beef/turkey and bread crumbs and use your hands to quickly and thoroughly combine. Gently press the mixture into a 1.5-quart glass loaf pan, or with your hands, form a loaf in a baking dish (lined with foil for uber easy clean-up). Spread ketchup over the top and bake for 45 to 50 minutes.

*If you use ground turkey, like I did, you might consider using an egg-and-a-half. We can all agree that ground turkey can be miserably dry, and I think the extra egg helps provide some much-needed moisture (thank my mom for that tip). I also cooked the loaf for closer to 60 minutes, about 10 more than suggested. To be sure it's done: the recommended internal temp for cooked ground turkey is 160 to 165 degrees, depending on who you ask.


valentine's for baby.

Hello, February! Have you bought your candy hearts yet?

I've been obsessing over valentine's day-inspired gifts for my little love bug. Little girls = cute little clothes and lots of pink. For the record, I usually reserve baby pink in small doses, for things like my toes, but Mari looks good in pink. It really is her color.

In the clothes department: Ruffle-Back Leggings in Pink Grapefruit; Easy Breezy Dress Set in Sun Up Yellow; Ruffle Trim Romper in Bakery Pink; Baby Legs Sweet Heart Leg Warmers.

She's too young to shower with too many gifts. For now, bliss (and sometimes, torment) is an empty water bottle, my Blackberry or her daddy's Mac. But, she does love her Jelly Cat. Loves. If she didn't already have one, I'd be tempted to buy the striped Bon Bon Bunny in the spirit of valentine's.
Two more love-inspired gifts for little ones: Hugs and Kisses children's personalized stationery; Heart Measuring Cups.


more peas, please.

I am really just barely getting Mari's food made, but when I get to it, it makes me so happy. If it's the only time I get in the kitchen all week, I'm so okay with that.
Growing up, we ate home cooked meals, every day, at the dinner table. No exceptions. In my parent's house, sharing food equaled sharing the love, and so it will be in our house.
We're all slowly getting the hang of baby food, and here's what's helping us along the way, including lots of tools from OXO Tots.

OXO Baby Food Mill
If you've ever wanted one, here's your great excuse. What have I done without this for so long? I love that it's lightweight, easy to clean and gets me off the hook from peeling. Anything.

OXO Tot Baby Food Freezer Tray
From the food mill to the ice cube trays the food goes. These come with lids, and are rid of all the bad things bad plastic brings.

Crate & Barrel Glasslock Containers 
Once frozen, food gets popped out and into these perfectly-sized (and pretty) glasslock containers, which are freezer, oven and dishwasher safe. Great multi-purpose purchase, if you ask me.

OXO Freezer Storage Containers
I use these to defrost and warm her frozen food cubes (using a bottle warmer). These containers are also freezer-friendly and free of plastic toxins. For bigger babes: these also come in 4 oz. sizes.

Green Sprouts Waterproof Terry Bibs
So far, these are our favorites. Easy to wash, they don't get wet and heavy on Miss Mari and they're plain. Waterproof + terry + not tacky = not easy to find.

We also use all sorts of serving utensils from OXO, like these bowls and feeding spoons. In the cookbook department, this is my baby food bible, thanks to Jen. For a second reference, I was gifted this cookbook, which is super informative, gives some great recipe alternatives and is pretty. Like really pretty. As far as photographing baby food can be.
In my case, it's beautiful. So very beautiful.