Ten Decorating Trends That Are Over (or should be)

DomesticArts, Interior Design, New Year

January is a great time to really examine your personal spaces and think about how you want to live and feel throughout the year. After holiday decor has been stored away, take some time to edit your belongings. Donate items that don’t speak to who you are. Take this opportunity to rotate things you love to different locations for a fresh look and feel.

1. Kitchy Farmhouse

When you start seeing home decor items pop up at discount stores like TJ Max or HomeGoods, you know the trend is dwindling (or more likely, has dwindled). Tasteful farmhouse style is tricky because the market is flooded with low-end objects. Keep things simple and use authentic pieces for a genuine feel.

2. Heavy Metallics

We’ve seen lots of mass-produced metallic home accessories in the last few years. A little bit of metallic in any room adds interest and a playful, reflective quality. Just be careful to balance it out with other textures so it doesn’t look to trendy or over-done.

3. Subway Tile With Dark Grout

Subway tile is a clean, simple, inexpensive material that works in a variety of settings. Unless you live in an urban loft or industrial type space, subway tile with black grout doesn’t work. If you still want to try the trend, use it in a small space like a bathroom wall so it can be replaced inexpensively if you don’t love it.

4. Kitchens Sans Top Cabinets

Many designers have eliminated top cabinets in contemporary kitchen design which is supposed to give a space a light, airy look. Just be honest with yourself about whether your life-style suits the trend. If you are able to be highly selective/disciplined about your kitchen wares, a kitchen with limited kitchen storage might work for you. If your kitchen cabinets are filled with a mish-mash of stuff you don’t necessarily want displayed on open shelves, upper, closed cabinets are still best.

5. Tiny Pendant Lights

Small, inconsequential pendant lights do very little to make a statement. When choosing lights to hang over a bar or island, keep the scale of your bottom piece in mind. Don’t feel obligated to go with the new trend of using huge pendants (which is a look that won’t be lasting either). Choose pieces that will give you adequate task lighting. Don’t go for tiny and precious or huge and trendy. Select something in the middle that provides a comfortable, visual balance.

6. Fake Flowers

While some high end silk trees are well-made enough to look nearly real, I implore anyone out there who is still decorating with silk flowers to abandon ship. No matter how lovely a room, silk flowers stand out like a bad nose-job and can simply ruin your space. You’re not fooling anyone with silk flora. Imitation  flowers look fake, are horrible dust-collectors and generally make a room stodgy.  Silk flowers are to real foliage as Velveeta is to an artisan, aged Manchego. A single bloom in a bud vase is far more lovely than the most elaborate silk arrangement.

8. Faux Art

You and your home deserve original art. Reproduction posters or mass-produced prints available at chain furniture stores won’t  inspire you or anyone else. But one of a kind art pieces don’t need break the bank. Consider custom framing old postage stamps, vintage vacation photos, kid’s art, a meaningful letter you’ve received, a gorgeous scarf… When you surround yourself with interesting pieces that communicate a personal narrative, your home will feel instantly enriched and unique.

9. Shower-Only Bathrooms

I’ve come across several beautiful homes lately that feature big, fancy showers but no bathtubs. If you truly hate baths and plan on staying in your home forever, certainly customize your space to reflect your personal needs. Do keep in mind that for re-sale value, you will attract lots more buyers if you have a master bath-tub (and tubs in guest spaces as well). The ritual of bathing is very important to lots of people and tubs are a pure necessity for anyone with small children.

10. Wall Decals

In reference to the anti-faux art note above, avoid decals like the Black Plague unless you are decorating a child’s room (although… still questionable) or maybe a dorm room. It’s better to leave a wall blank while you search for the right piece of art than to hastily use a sub-par solution.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Get Your Hoppin’ John On, Ya’ll

DomesticArts, New Year, Recipes, Southen Food

If your family is from the American South, a New Year’s Day hasn’t gone by you haven’t feasted on a nice warm bowl of Hoppin’ John. It’s not only delicious. It’s nutritious and is said to bring good luck for the new year. It’s also incredibly easy to make which is always a huge plus.

If you shop today, the fresh black-eyed peas you can find in the refrigerated section of your market may be sold out but not too worry. It’s still early enough in the day to buy dried black-eyed peas. You can soak them this afternoon. I like to put everything in the crock pot on low before I go out for the evening and let it stew all night.

This is a basic recipe. Keep in mind, some folks add kale, spinach or other veggies to enhance the nutrition profile. Like most family-styled Southern dishes, many liberties can be taken to alter or add to the fundamental recipe. If you don’t eat pork, try browning chicken thighs as your meat element — just remove the skin and dice the chicken meat just before serving.

Brown one small, diced white onion, one stalk diced celery and two diced carrots in olive oil. Place golden veggies in the bottom of your slow-cooker. Add a ham hock (or some kind of pork product — you can use about 4 -6 ounces of  sausage, bacon, pancetta, etc.). Add about 12 ounces of black-eyed peas (fresh, canned or previously soaked). Add a clove of garlic, a dash of onion powder, one bay leaf, salt, pepper. Cover with about 4 cups chicken broth. Cook on low/simmer all night. Serve over cooked white rice. Potential toppings include chopped parsley, chopped green onions/chives, diced red onions, grated sharp cheddar cheese, Tabasco.

We like to sleep in on New Year’s morning. Then we enjoy a yummy brunch of Hoppin’ John with corn bread and greens while watching the Rose Parade and Bowl Games on TV.

Wishing You All a Safe New Year’s Eve and lots and lots of luck throughout 2019!

Deconstructing Christmas

Christmas, DomesticArts

Every Christmas I promise myself when it’s time to take down the Christmas tree I will carefully and thoughtfully organize my ornaments. I vow I will store all like-themed decorations together so that if, one Christmas in the future, I want to style the tree in all angels or all Santas or all nutcrackers… the task will be easy. While some may have visions of sugar plumbs dancing in their heads, I have visions of opening beautifully ordered boxes of decorations each year I have carefully and lovingly stored the year before.

As is the case with most fantasies, my reality is grossly different from my well-intentioned imaginations. Yesterday afternoon I started pulling the tree apart. From the photo above you can see I still have my work cut out for me. Most everything is off the tree and I’m gripped with the familiar need to toss everything in big Rubbermaid containers without time or effort put toward organization.  As much fun as Christmas is to assemble, it’s agonizing to put away. Does anyone else have the urge to toss the whole tree with lights still attached? I’ll admit I’ve done it but the nagging image of our landfills jumbled with tree lights will dissuade me from doing it again.

As soon as I post this, I’m going to take a deep breath, get the Rubbermaid tubs from the garage and dump everything inside just to be done with it. The task of expunging Christmas is pesky, it’s true, but the promise of a de-cluttered home, all fresh with clean spaces where vignettes of decorations have been sitting for a month spurs me on. There is something about ringing in the new year in an orderly house that just feels right. It feels so right, I use it as justification for the atrocious way I heave all my treasured ornaments into boxes without much thought.

I’d still like to believe that, one day, I will rise to the occasion and fulfil a responsible post-Christmas clean-up routine. At least this year I’m still too driven by the out of sight/out of mind philosophy that has served me well for years. I suppose it’s always good to have something to aspire to.

 

Late, Late Summer Cobbler

Recipes, Southen Food

Fall makes me want to buy dozens and dozens of freshly sharpened pencils, don penny loafers and makes me feel like cooking warm, feel good dinners. We’re still eating al fresco here in sunny California but the evenings are getting cool and it’s almost time to use both the outdoor and indoor fireplaces.

I had a half-dozen, large, organic nectarines in the fruit bowl today and decided to surprise my husband with a gooey late season cobbler. If you have some late summer stone fruit, this is a great way to use it up and transition into fall at the same time.

If you aren’t a cobbler fan, you will be amazed at both how easy and yummy this throw-together recipe is. It works for weeknights, for company and is easy to transport too.

Stone Fruit Cobbler

Pit and chop six to eight nectarines (or other stone fruit) into similar sized pieces. No need to be exact — there’s almost nothing you can do to ruin a cobbler.

Over low heat, stir your fruit with the juice and zest of two lemons plus 1/3 cup sugar until the liquid thickens. You can use any ol’ skillet you have but my favorite is my great-grandmother’s iron skillet that creates such marvelous, even heat.

Roughly toss  two cups of oats (not instant), a half stick of butter chopped into small cubes and a pinch or two of brown sugar in a bowl and add, evenly, to the top of your fruit. I just add my oats to the fruit and put the iron skillet in the oven at 350 degrees for about 7 minutes or till the oats start to brown a bit. You can also dish your fruit into individual ramekins before you bake for a more polished presentation.  Garnish with a bit of lemon zest.

 

Enjoy! I promise your family will thank you.

Tomato Pie Y’all – California Style

Homemaking, Recipes, Southen Food

I haven’t felt much like writing lately. But, I have felt like cooking. I’m one of those people who embraces something I’m interested in for a little while and, then, when I feel saturated,  move on to a different project. I wish I was a more habitual person. One of the qualities highly successful share is their ability to adhere to a schedule. The thing is, I find that keeping to a strict schedule squashes my creativity.  I never know when I’ll get the urge to re-paint a wall or make a complicated meal or re-accessorize a room.

So that’s why my last post was about cooking and so is this one and, likely, more will follow. As an homage to these very late summer days, a tomato pie seems the perfect thing for dinner alfresco.

Southern food is my family’s jet fuel.  Although we are California people by location, our strong southern and mid-western lineage means, in a world obsessed with lean protein, steamed veggies and everything sans gluten, we still drink copious amounts of tea (that’s iced – not hot – and preferably sweet). We have not given up chicken fried steak, mashed potatoes and gravy, slow-cooked green beans with bacon and pecan pie.

I have a slightly California-ized version of southern tomato pie. Any traditional recipe calls for lots of mayonnaise but, instead, I use eggs as a binder which adds protein and makes the final product more quiche-like. If you want an even healthier version still, use only the whites of 6 eggs and low-fat or vegan cheese.

This is such a versatile dish. It’s so easy. It’s great as casual meal, to take to a pot-luck or serve at a shower. I love it paired with grilled peaches drizzled with a little balsamic glaze and some leafy greens tossed with oil and vinegar.

Tomato Pie

Pre-bake a pie crust in a 9 inch deep dish pie pan for 6 minutes at 400 degrees or until the bottom is firm and starting to brown. Slice (very thinly) 4 large vine-ripened tomatoes. Of course its best if they are out of your own garden. If you don’t grow them yourself, buy the highest quality you can find. Press the slices between paper towels to remove as much moisture as you can. Chop two large handfuls of fresh basil leaves, a small handful of fresh parsley and 4 green onions. Grate 2 cups fresh mozzarella (or, if you live in the civilized world, pour the already grated cheese from a plastic pouch).

Start with a layer of tomato slices at the bottom of your crust. Follow with a layer of basil leaves, then mozzarella. At this point, whisk together 3 large eggs, 1/4 cup milk, the chopped parsley and onion plus a little freshly ground black pepper and a generous pinch or two of  salt. Slowly pour the egg mixture evenly into pan allowing it to settle around the veggie/cheese layer. Repeat the layering process on top of the eggs.

Bake at 350 degrees until a toothpick comes clean. Allow to cool a bit before slicing. Can be served either warm or cold.

Enjoy.

 

 

 

 

Fruit Cake, Fall & Pat Altschul

Bravo Television Commentary, Homemaking, Recipes

For those of you who write, you will understand my current predicament. I haven’t written for a while – therefore I can’t write – therefore I haven’t written – therefore….. You get it. Chicken – egg. Chicken – egg.

Now, abruptly changing subjects…

This morning I scrolled through Twitter to find that Southern Charm’s Patricia Altschul recently put out feelers for a great fruit cake recipe with lots of nuts.

As much as everyone wants to hold on to summer, we can’t deny that fall is (almost) upon us. I thought posting my fruit cake recipe might help me mentally prepare for the holiday season ahead and, maybe, help crack my writers block.

I did my very best to perfect this recipe last fall when my life as an empty nester began and I had time to start perfecting things.

This is for you Miss Pat. I hope it does not disappoint.

Nutty Fruit Cake

Base: A good pound cake recipe  (Yes, I sometimes use a box mix). Boxed or homemade, follow cake directions then add Pinches of Cinnamon and Allspice to taste, One Large Egg, 1/3 c Dark Rum, 1/4 cup Brandy, 2 Tsp Heavy Whipping Cream, 1 tsp Soy Sauce

Into the batter, fold 3 Heaping Tsps each: Candied Mango, Dried Cherries, Dried Apricot, Dried Currants, Dried Cranberries, Chopped Pistachios, Chopped Hazelnuts plus 1 c Chopped Pecans and 1tsp Lemon Zest

Bake in a buttered pan according to your pound cake recipe

With a fork or toothpick, carefully pierce top of warm cake several times before adding glaze

Glaze: Heat 1/2 stick butter until it’s very slighty browned. Immediately whisk in 3 Tsps dark brown sugar, 3 Tsps Dark Rum, 2 Tsps Sherry, 3 Tsps Tangerine Juice, 1 tsp Tangerine Zest. Remove from heat when sugar is dissolved. Spoon over cake

Allow to cool and slice with a sharp knife

 

Enjoy

 

Are You Thankful? Put It In Writing

Modern Manners

After my last article, in which I discussed wedding gifts, I had a reader make a comment regarding the importance of thank you notes. The post made her think about an insincere sounding text she received after sending a check to a recent graduate. She recommended I share some thoughts about the art of thank you notes.

Here are a few general rules about extending proper thanks that, despite what you may think, still matter a lot.

1.There is no excuse for failing to write a thank you note for gifts and kind gestures. Noting your appreciation not only communicates your gratitude but confirms your gift arrived. I sent a wedding gift a couple of years ago via a couple’s bridal registry on the Bed Bath & Beyond site. I never received recognition so I have no idea if the down comforter, duvet and shams I sent ever found the newlyweds’ doorstep. That leaves me in the position of wondering if they think I stiffed them yet it’s completely inappropriate for me to ask them about it.

2. In our electronic world, human communication sans devices has become almost extinct. It’s certainly OK to send quick thank you texts for small, helpful gestures. If you have the flu and a fellow parent drives your child home from school for a couple of days, a short text to express your appreciation is fine. When you actually receive a gift – wedding, birthday, anniversary, etc. – a handwritten note is absolutely necessary.

3. When you’re expecting a baby, stock up on stationary. You will likely receive shower gifts and be gifted some new baby items after you deliver. If you’re about to be first time parents, you won’t fully understand this now, but your every waking moment (and that’s a lot of moments because ony the tiniest sliver of your life will be touched by sleep) will be devoted to a very small human leech (whom you will love more than anything).

When your baby is an infant, write short but sincere thanks. Anyone with kids understands you are in the baby cave and any time the adorable freeloader sleeps you usually reserve for teeth brushing and quick showers.

As your baby becomes a toddler, pre-schooler, kindergartener it’s still acceptable to write their notes but ask them to help by writing their name or adding drawings as they are able. Once they’re reading and writing, they should be forming their own notes with your guidance as necessary. Like anything, if your kids learn this good habit early, your need to nag them later will be minimized.

4. A Few Tips:

a) Although most etiquette books will say you have a whole year to send notes after your wedding, I think this advice is outdated and utter nonsense. Three months, maximum, is a more polite time-line. After an entire year, the sentiment feels like and afterthought and won’t be nearly as appreciated. We once received a note from a couple three-plus years after their wedding that included thanks for their wedding gift, baby shower gift and new baby gift all together which was so ridiculous it was hysterical. I guess they were going for the trifecta of thank you cards but it further cememted our opinion of them: They are completely disorganized, entitled, flakes.

b) As alluded to above, Be Prepared. Illustrating why you need proper stationery before you have a baby might be obvious but regular life gets busy too so stash a box of stationary in your desk at work and your desk at home. I used to bring stationary to my kids activities like ballet and soccer practice. Clearly I’m not one of those moms who had to see every single plie or drill so using that time for personal correspondence worked for me. Don’t forget to have stamps at home, at work and in your wallet.

c) While the sentiment is more important than the stationary or ink itself, the proper way to compose something handwritten is by using a thin, black, felt tip pen (aren’t you glad I didn’t say quill and bottle of ink?). Black ballpoint is also acceptable. Personally, I like a black Le Pen which is both smooth to write with and produces a very nice line. Find your favorite and have a few on hand. In terms of actual stationary, buy the best you can afford and a style you like. If you’re on a budget, there is nothing wrong with a simple, neutral card that can be picked up at grocery and drug stores.

c) Be genuine and give your correspondence a personal touch.

Don’t Do This:

Dear Grandpa, Thank you for the check for my graduation. Love, Ryan

-or-

Dear Aunt Carolyn and Uncle Hank, Thank you for attending our wedding last month and for the great wedding gift. We love it. Best, Brittany and Logan

Do This:

Dear Grandpa, Thank you for the check you sent for my high school graduation. I’m sorry you couldn’t be with us to celebrate but I really appreciate your gift. I’m going to use it to buy a desk lamp for my dorm room next year which I will surely need for late night study sessions. Love, Ryan

-or-

Dear Aunt Carolyn and Uncle Hank, We are so thankful you could both celebrate our special day with us. It means so much that you traveled such a long way. We were so excited to receive the beautiful, sleek coffee maker. We will think of you every morning when we awake to the motivating smell of caffeine. What a generous gift. Thank you for your congratulations and thoughtfulness. Fondly, Brittany and Logan

Taking just a couple of minutes to express something in writing, even in the busy world we live in with all its distractions, will make you feel civilized and make the person on the other end of the letter smile, for sure.