The Story of Cooking - L & L Blog
I don't want to use the word tragic to describe Father's Day from my childhood, because it involved a Bloomin' Onion. Nothing can be too terrible when it involves a Bloomin' Onion. But I will say our Father's Day lacked imagination. Every year we'd pile into a station wagon and drive to Outback Steakhouse, waiting outside for at least an hour. We'd sit in the heat, swatting at mosquitos, enduring the screams of hungry kids and grow irritated with one another. I'd stare at the plastic disc in my hand, willing it to blink red. When it did, we got looks.
Now that we're older, Father's Day has become a more thoughtful occasion. Here are some ways to give it some heart. And the best part? All the gifts in the below photos are available at Ladles and Linens!
The Great Outdoors
In case you were thinking of going to a chain restaurant, know that thousands of others are too. Why not pack a picnic in the great outdoors? The old neighborhood playground is not going to cut it. Cruise into a national park and give him a little escape from the everyday. Pick a spot with a great view of water or a mountain vista - something wild. Bring an oversize blanket, or multiple ones, so everyone has room to stretch out. Pack some of his favorite foods, whether it's Mom's famous meatloaf or a bonfire with s'mores. Bring a bottle of chilled wine, use stemless wine glasses to avoid spills on bumpy terrain, and be sure to toast him!
Why do women and children get all the gift baskets? Every Easter, kids are handed rainbow hued cavity-makers half their size. I can't tell you how many times I've enjoyed a themed basket - it's usually about pampering. But equality means guys get baskets too, and if you go to your local Ladles and Linens store, the associates will help you put together a customized gift basket for Dad. The place is positively stocked with staples and inventive homemade goods, made by Virginians! From a Wusthof Portable Grilling Set to the Smoking Gun Woodchip Set these sophisticated products will make Dad feel taken care of. You and the siblings can go in on it together, making it hassle-free for everyone!
Take Dad's endless home movies on VHS and have them transferred to a DVD collection or a digital library, labeled and organized by year. Then invite the family over, shut off the lights and take a trip down memory lane. There will be squeals, there will be tears. There should also be good food, so fill up the family with homemade pizza - an easy food to eat while basking in nostalgia.
Leave Him Alone
Sound harsh? Then you must not be celebrating a father to young kids. This is for all the newer dads who have recently put their hobbies on hold for diaper duty. Time is precious - give him some. Whether he wants to tinker on a project in the garage or enjoy peace and quiet while fishing on a lake, let him go. But not empty-handed. Surprise him with a cooler filled with quality craft beer, and if he's in the garage, order him some great take-out. Then say goodbye and face the chaos alone.
You got this.
Happy Father's Day!
Nearly every party you attend this summer will be out under the sun. Who can resist a pool party or down-home BBQ? How can you throw a party that sets you apart? Host your friends in the evening, enjoying cool air under the stars. And what if the theme dare not involve a grill or bottle of rose? Throw an International dinner party, and wow your friends with the unexpected!
How to do it:
Have your guests show up in clothes from their native country, or from their newly-discovered DNA results! My friend Kim wanted to poke fun at her Russian lineage, so she came with a basket of vodka and potatoes, and scowled for photos.
Keep it Simple
No need to embark on elaborate recipes, though, should you feel so inclined, Ladles & Linens has an exotic list of spices. You can keep it simple. If you have a good food processor (and you should), you can whip up a batch of hummus for a fraction of the price of the tiny tubs at the store - and no cooking! Just throw the following in the food processor: one can of drained chick peas (save some water to soften the mix), two cloves of garlic, juice from a half lemon, a teaspoon of tahina sauce and salt and pepper to taste. Blend and taste until it's just right. Garnish with a shallow puddle of extra virgin olive oil on top, and dust with paprika.
To reduce stress, prep as much as you can ahead of time, with food-saving miracle products, like this guacamole keeper and Greensaver produce keeper. Expert tip: No one wants to be greeted by a stressed-out host, so drink during the inevitable last-minute hustle. These stemless martini glasses are a beauty, and less likely to be knocked over. If you've had two full drinks before the first guests arrive, it's gong to be a good night.
It's a Small World
Try to include foods from your guests' homelands. Label the dishes on printed flags for the intended country. Have a photo booth with a sign above reading, "It's a Small World" - a feel-good reminder to focus on our similarities, rather than our differences.
Let the Games Begin
You've probably noticed by now, but I'm a fan of games. Host a trivia contest about world geography and culture. The winner gets to take home a basket of International food! Your local Ladles & Linens store will be chock full of creative gift ideas! We stuffed our prize basket with Italian pasta, Greek dolmas, English shortbread, Mexican salsa and more!
For the full story on our International dinner party, click here.
And when you host your own soiree, be sure to share the photos with us - we can't wait!
I love vintage books on etiquette and entertaining. Here's the bible, if interested. The advice is sometimes hilarious: "What's a children's party without franks and weenies?" Sometimes offensive: "Let your husband do most of the talking, as head of household." But there's always something classic to learn, like how to properly set silverware. Or the fact that at dinner parties, my husband and I should sit at the head and foot of the table. I leaned that in a book, and saw it play out later at dinner parties.
Cocktail parties have changed quite a bit, and below are some of the fun takeaways:
Then: "Always leave out plenty of cigarettes in open containers!"
Now: Vaping on the patio, admiring vintage ashtrays as art pieces.
Then: "Always start with sherry, before serving other cocktails."
Now: Have a signature cocktail that speaks to the occasion. Give it a clever name and list the ingredients on a chalkboard. And since we're in the age of Instagram, make it look good. Endless inspiration can be found here.
Then: "Play exotic music, to give your party flair. Watch them do the mambo, or cha-cha!"
Now: It's a Spotify or iTunes playlist - a cultivated mixtape. If guests get into it, they're likely to show-and-tell: casting their own playlist from their smartphones.
Then: "Good lighting is key. Light tall taper candles and place into a sterling silver candelabra. Throw sheer red and pink scarves over the lamps."
Now: While reddish lighting does make skin appear flawless, modern hosts ditch the fire hazard for strung Edison lights. With candles, we opt for the sturdier pillar style, with attention-grabbing scents, like cardamom and lavender.
Then: "Nothing beats a great sherbert punch, with rum!"
Now: I'll never hate on a good sherbert punch, but as they've become passe, modern cocktail parties tend to favor mezcals, high-end collectors bourbon (with cooling cubes to preserve taste) and campy, fruit-laden tiki drinks.
Then: "Create fun party snacks for your guests, such as a tropical tuna mold, sardines on buttered rye or Melba toast rounds."
Now: The above isn't a joke - it's from my Good Housekeeping Party Book circa 1949. These days, charcuterie boards have given way to elaborate grazing tables, meant to spill into a bountiful display. Artisan cheeses and breads, thinly-sliced sausages, nuts and fruit are commonly used. It's complicated, but great fun to put together.
I'd say we've come a long way, but I'd love for a couple of old traditions to come back. Hosts used to have a professional dancer come and teach guests dance moves, like the Charleston or cha cha. How fun would it be to invite Bollywood dancers and a henna tattoo artist to a dinner party where I'm serving Indian food?
That being said, can we please make sherbert punch happen again?
It's that time of the year again. Teachers can barely contain their students because the whiff of summer is in the air. And come this weekend, we'll be kicking off the season with Memorial Day BBQs. The air will be thick with smoke and the squealing sound of children, as pools will open their doors across the country.
Sometimes in an attempt to make their party stand out, hosts eschew tradition. But Memorial Day is a perfect example of why some traditions exist. People want to be outside after a long winter, and soak it up before heat and humidity set in. A BBQ is perfect. But how can yours stand out, and properly kick off summer like no one else?
Step Up to the Plate
Parties will be awash in paper plates and red Solo cups this weekend. Why not step it up a notch and use real plateware? You can even mix and match colorful dishes to make it less formal, even playful. This sustainable option means less waste and less space being taken up in landfills. Will it mean more time at the dishwasher? Yes. But you're sending a clear message to your guests: they're worth it.
Grocery stores are stocked with BBQ sauces made cheaply with high fructose corn syrup. Those in the know will grab Sweet Baby Ray's, which is usually the only good option. But why not go for a fresh new sauce that will have even your most polite guests licking their fingers? Ladles and Linens carries the Virginia-based brand Clark & Hopkins. Their zesty Bloody Mary mix and BBQ sauces equal sticky fingers around the table.
The Reason for the Season
When was the last time you went to a Memorial Day BBQ that actually acknowledged the meaning of the holiday? Not that the party should be a somber affair. In fact, there are positive ways to remind people of those who made the ultimate sacrifice. Have guests make toasts to friends or family in the military, or share a story about them. If there are children at the party, gather them up, show them photos of people in military uniform and teach them to thank these soldiers for their service. Serve oysters on a gorgeous porcelain dish, and call it the Pearl Harbor Platter. Make your grilled burger "extra tough" with jalapenos or hot sauce, and call it "The General Patton."
Don't Hate the Player
Nothing screams "Party's Over!" more than guests wandering inside for your remote control. Keep the party engaging by busting out some classic summertime/field day games! Adults and children alike love to be competitive, though adults need a little more coaxing than children at first. You know what will embolden them? Prizes, like gift cards! So fill up those balloons for a good old-fashioned water balloon toss; race while balancing an egg on your spoon. And folks, I'm not above a good game of musical chairs.
Top it Off
Famous hostess and writer Nora Ephron wrote a lot about entertaining, and stressed the fact that that people love to play with their food. There is something fun about the communal activity of fondue or Korean BBQ. Build a toppings bar that goes beyond ketchup and mustard. Once, for a bonfire I hosted, I scanned my fridge and pantry for out-of-the-box topping ideas, and the options filled an entire table (pictured above). If you're grilling hot dogs or burgers, consider what you already have. My toppings included caramelized onions, cranberry chutney, crushed pineapple and homemade habanero sauce. Guests compared notes and enjoyed strange combinations.
A rule of thumb when entertaining is to always ask yourself, "Why be boring?" And with that, your summer kick-off will be one for the books.
Modern life is an anomaly. Technology is designed to simplify our lives, yet our world only seems to grow more hectic. And in the mad rush to cross things off our lists, we sometimes miss out on great moments. The other night I was so intent on getting my son to prepare for bed, that I didn't notice the ridiculous rap song he was making up. Not until I saw my husband laughing.
Many of us love the idea of being in the moment. After all, that's what made our childhoods slide by slowly. Life truly is more simple without the cycling thoughts. As a child, if I were eating an ice cream cone, I was all in. I wasn't going over a grocery list at the same time.
I'm tinkering with my work/life balance; it needs to improve. Whether you're a stay-at-home parent or a tax attorney, below you will find ideas to help make work easier, and play more joyful.
1) But First, Coffee
The best way to tackle the day is to fuel up, so improve the quality of your life by improving your coffee. Skip staleness and enjoy the aroma of a freshly-ground bean. If you don't have a coffee grinder, it's time. If you're a purist like me, you may not want the flavor of your coffee tainted by filters, plastic and machinery. Opt for a French press. It's simple, doesn't need electricity and makes a nice, strong cup!
2) Cultivating the Cube
It's hard to unwind after a workday if you dread going back. You can do a few things to liven up your work space. Keep a stash of power bars and other snacks in a conversation piece, like this acacia wood jar. Ditch the dated styrofoam and drink out of a cheerful mug. Hang up a new piece of art, and light up a desk lamp to battle a modern day blight: fluorescent lighting.
3) Shaken, not Stirred
Whether you spent an afternoon with spit-up on your sweatshirt or with an Excel spreadsheet that wouldn't die, five o'clock couldn't come sooner. So grab a shaker, some ice, and start mixing things up! Ladles and Linens has an outstanding collection of bitters, shrubs and rim sugars; so kick your drinks up a notch - you deserve it. Especially if have spit-up on your sweatshirt.
4) Kick Off Your Sunday Shoes
Women wear so many things that defy gravity; stiletto heels, push-up bras - even hairspray. To be relaxed you have to feel relaxed. Give your battered feet some love in these cozy, graphic socks. Take a hot shower and use a luxurious French soap. Read a great book. It's guaranteed to take you out of your head and transport you.
5) The Best Medicine
That's right. Remember not to take yourself too seriously. Sometimes the weight of the world will melt away if you watch a ridiculously unrealistic romantic comedy. For me, Friends on Netflix is an instant mood booster. Lighten up your living space with hilarious hand-towels, cheeky (pun intended) magnets and rubber chicken bottle stoppers. Life is too short to have everything in your home be 100% beige.
We are a generation of cocktail enthusiasts. We started referring to bartenders as "mixologists," as they slowly morphed into 1920s-era dandies with waxed mustaches. We now expect cleverly-named signature cocktails from established bars and restaurants. Some trends fall flat, like gold flakes in your drink. It was a flavorless expense.
But a new cocktail trend has taken off, and it blew me away. At the speakeasy Grandstaff & Stein, I ordered a drink called The Briar Patch, and it was tart, tangy and sweet. That's when I learned about shrubs, the sweet drinking vinegar infused with fruit, and/or herbs.
Luckily, here in Virginia we have Mother Shrub, a business that specializes in small-batch shrubs, made locally. Owner Meredyth Archer remembers growing up in West Virginia drinking shrub with her grandmother, who was convinced it was the cure to everything. Archer stumbled upon a family cookbook from the 1800s, found a recipe for drinking vinegar, and never looked back.
You can find a great variety of Mother Shrub drinking vinegars at your local Ladles & Linens store. And below, we got a little intel from Mother Shrub herself!
Me: Favorite shrub?
Meredyth: Such a hard question! My favorites vary depending on the time of year and what I am in the mood to drink. Lately I've been drinking either the Salted Honey or Grapefruit shrub mixed with seltzer. So refreshing! For Cinco de Mayo I made a margarita hybrid with tequila, fresh lime juice, and grapefruit shrub topped with Modelo Especial.
Me: What are some other fun ways to enjoy shrub?
Meredyth: I have been making some honey-sweetened lemonades and adding a shot of Black Cherry, Cranberry or Ginger shrub to make a non-alcoholic drink, or spiking them with a shot of vodka or moonshine. A couple of combinations I love are AR's Hot Southern Honey-sweetened lemonade with ginger shrub and moonshine or a wildflower honey sweetened lemonade with Black Cherry shrub and vodka. I've also been playing around with some kombucha and shrub mocktails and cocktails.
Me: Can you share a recipe?
Meredyth: Basic favorite mocktail: 1 oz Grapefruit shrub, topped with 4-6 oz sparkling water. Garnish with a sprig of rosemary. Punch it up by adding 1 1/2 oz grapefruit infused spirit like Belle Isle Ruby Red Moonshine or Deep Eddy Grapefruit Vodka.
Me: Favorite salad dressing or marinade recipe?
Meredyth: Mix 1.5 parts any flavor MOTHER shrub with 1 part olive oil. Season to taste. Add salt and pepper, fresh or dried herbs.
When it comes to Mother's Day, there's always brunch. By all means I'm a fan, but the restaurants will be packed with families. And didn't you do brunch last year? And the year before?
Why not enjoy the luxury of a good brunch without leaving the comfort of your home? Elevate your breakfast in bed with brunch in bed. What's the difference? Happy you asked!
This brunch should be next level, so while you're nibbling, have the family clean the house. Should you her any moans, beguile them with tales of childbirth to put them in their place. And while you're at it, prop open the iPad and binge watch Netflix. After all, a mother must learn to multitask!
Take things up a notch with these ideas:
- Peachy Keen: You've had coffee every other morning this week. The White Peach Green Tea Bellini is where brunch meets boozy tea party, and the green tea gives the same perk. The recipe is simple, just follow the link!
- Lips Like Sugar: This is a celebration after all, so line the rim of your glass with flavored sugar. You deserve it!
- If you're skipping the Bellinis, pour hot water over this exquisite flowering tea and watch the drama unfold. This elegant glass teapot provides a 360 degree view, and classes up the kitchen when parked on the stove.
- This isn't a morning for an old tee and sweatpants. Luxuriate in silk pajamas or a pretty slip. When you look good, you feel good.
- This is a holiday, so you should be served brunch on a silver platter, and by silver platter I mean bamboo tray.
- Do not tolerate paper plates or plastic cups. Your napkin should be cloth and your juice should be served in a proper glass carafe.
- Has your brunch turned into a marathon of Schitt's Creek on Netflix? Why not squeeze in some self-care? Lay back with a sheet mask or deep condition your hair. Paint your toes or use whitening strips on your teeth.
Most importantly, allow yourself to let go, and have others carry the load. You worked hard to get where you're at, and deserve this time. Happy Mother's Day.
In case you run into that guy at your Cinco de Mayo party, you know, the one that asks you if you “even know” what Cinco de Mayo is about, be prepared. It’s not their Independence Day, but a holiday celebrating Mexico’s victory over Napoleon and the French Empire during the Battle of Puebla in 1862.
Now that we’ve put that guy in his place, get a margarita in him, and quickly. He simply needs to be reminded of the big picture: this holiday has become a celebration of Mexican culture. Spring fever is still strong, so keep it outdoors. String some lights and vibrant picado papel banners. Blast mariachi music and fire up the bar blender for the signature drink: margaritas!
Cinco de Mayo parties are light-hearted by nature, so add a dash of humor with this literal taco truck! Serve pre-made tacos to guests while they mingle, to make them feel spoiled and to enjoy their reaction. Spice those tacos up with authentic seasonings, like Mexican Adobo or Cocoa and Ancho or Chipotle Honey!
One of the great things about Mexican-themed parties, is that no one pays extra for guac! Assume that guests will go for guacamole with reckless abandon. Make more than you think they’ll need with a little help from this avocado masher and guacamole keeper, which keeps it from browning.
Who says pinatas are just for kids? Fill them up with mini plastic bottles of tequila, boxes of Chiclets gum, and lottery tickets. To make it memorable, get creative with small but inspired gifts:
- These animal butt magnets will keep your guests laughing!
- Stay on-theme with these cactus-themed chip clips.
- Eat More Tacos socks!
For dessert, guests will drool for silky, custard-like flan. To keep it simple, pour, serve and chill into individual ramekins!
Feliz Cinco de Mayo, mis amigos!
Earth Day is just around the corner, and to celebrate, we've listed 8 things you can do to save money and the planet. That's right - a major benefit of "going green" is more green in your pocket. So let's make haste for less waste!
- Tired of going through boxes of sandwich bags? Switch to Bee Wraps, which are reusable, and have fun themes. You can seal containers or wrap up lunch items to go.
- Slow your roll - specifically that roll of aluminum foil. These playful silicone lids were designed by Charles Viancin, and take on the shapes of lemon slices, cherry blossoms and more!
- We've heard enough stories about sea life dying from ingesting too much single-use plastic. Do your part by switching to these festive silicone straws. They're dishwasher safe, and food grade BPA-free.
- Teach the kiddos while they're young, and stock up on some short straws too.
- These stainless steel straws will class up any mojito. They won't rust or break, and come with their own brush cleaners.
- The Swedish have always been a few steps ahead of us, and we can't take our eyes off their stylish collection of dish cloths. Paper towels have never looked so drab.
- Zip-closed storage bags don't come cheap, and you usually have to toss them after a single use. Not the case with these storage bags. They've got the Southern charm of an old-fashioned jam jar, but are reusable, leak-proof and dishwasher safe. Also available in medium and large.
- Research is beginning to emerge about plastic particles found in our atmosphere, and the air we breathe. Why not join the movement to limit plastics by switching to these stainless steel food containers? Non-toxic, non-leaching and BPA-free.
Have a happy Earth Day!
Spring has officially sprung, and our Instagram pages are awash with Easter tablescapes and fresh flowers. As we swap pine cones for bud vases, why not enjoy flowers in a whole new way? Chef Lori Stern has been making waves with her shortbread cookies, with baked-in flowers from her own garden in Montecito. While they look Insta-worthy, they taste so scrumptious, she’s been shipping them all over the country. Unlike many chefs, she’s happy to share her secret and you can find it here.
Want to give it a shot? Quick cooking videos do make it look easy, but that’s how Chef Stern learned – on the Internet! There is one secret weapon every baker uses to cut down on time and labor, and that’s the Kitchen Aid Mixer. You can also cut down on waste by using this handy non-stick baking mat.
Let the gorgeous blooms take center stage when served on this pristine white serving platter.
And sweets aren’t the only way to enjoy spring’s bounty. Nasturtium (pictured above) is a peppery-tasting flower with deep jewel tones. When thrown in salads, along with their photogenic round leaves, it offers a real kick. Go for the smaller leaves, unless you'd like a more bitter green.
My personal favorite is wood sorrel (pictured above), a flowering plant so common, one sees it daily. They bunch on the ground like clover, only they're more leggy with yellow flowers. The lemony taste is so addictive that my son tears at it during walks. When he tries to snack on sorrel from sidewalks and parking lots, I insist they must be washed first.
You can throw mounds of raw sorrel atop fish, chicken breasts and salads. Mince them in a flash with these herb scissors and add some cheer to your presentation with this Le Cadeaux set.