Sunday, March 31, 2013

Decadent and Delightful

My husband and I love Olive Garden's Black Tie Mousse Cake.  It is probably our favorite restaurant dessert.  So for Easter dinner, I made a copycat recipe that I found at  It wasn't hard to make, but it has a lot of steps and was very time consuming.  It was a two-day process, freezing the cake after the third layer.  Although it was a lot of work, it was fun to make because each layer was different--chocolate cake on the bottom, then chocolate cheesecake, then Italian mousse, topped with chocolate ganache with white chocolate swirls, chocolate mousse frosting piped around the edge and a "crust" of mini chocolate chips.  It was delicious and was a huge hit at our Easter dinner!  If you're a chocoholic like me, you should definitely try this one!

Easter Table

This was our first married Easter.  (We are coming up on one year of marriage in just a few weeks.)  We are on an alternating schedule for holidays with our families, and this year, Easter was with my family--eight people total.  We decided to host dinner at our house, and I had so much fun planning everything!  I especially enjoyed decorating the table.  I love how a specially decorated table can set the mood for a meal--whether formal or romantic or fun and whimsical.  I love using table decor to enhance a gathering.  For Easter, I wanted to create a very spring-like feel.  I'm not a huge fan of traditional Easter pastel, so I wanted to use vibrant colors.  I also didn't want it to be too girly for the men of the family, and I wanted it to feel elegant while also being very fun and cheery.  Finally, I wanted it to have some unique personalization, and I wanted it to be easy enough to clean up (especially since a toddler would be involved) so as not to take away too much family-time after the meal.  I love how it all turned out!!

For the centerpiece, I used my Anchor Hocking cake plate, which is designed so that it can be turned upside down into a pedestal bowl.  I dyed 63 Easter eggs to fill the bowl, leaving the eggs in the dye for about 5 minutes each in order to get the most vibrant colors I could.  I used my wedding bouquet (silk daffodils--yellow daffodils are my favorite flower) in the middle, and I covered the base with silk yellow rose petals that were used on the tables at our wedding reception.

For each place setting, I used a round purple placemat, ivory plate, and purple napkin.  I love how the turqouise and purple go together.  I also found these adorable dragonfly napkin rings to put in the center of each plate.

I thought about using my wedding china plates, but for the sake of easy clean-up, I opted to use the everyday plates that can be thrown in the dishwasher.  One thing I've learned about hosting parties is that it's better to keep things a little simpler than to spend all your time in the kitchen, missing out on the gathering.

I also personalized each place with the guests' names.  I found some really cute potted silk flowers in bright spring colors for half off at a craft store.  I wrote each name on a foam Easter egg sticker.  I attached the sticker to a mini clothespin, which I clipped to the top edge of the pot.  They looked so cute!  And I can easily unclip the names and re-use the flowers for other events.

I absolutely love how everything turned out, and my family was very pleased.  Happy Easter, everyone!

Monday, March 25, 2013

"I don't want to go home!!!!"

We don't have kids, but we do have an almost 3-year-old niece that I absolutely adore!!  We love to have our family over for get-togethers, and I want our niece to enjoy these times, too, as well as any other young children who may come over.  So I keep a small basket of toys, books, and crayons in the family room.

Our niece goes right for the basket when she comes over, and we play hard the whole time she is here.  I'm usually exhausted by the end of the evening, but these are some of my favorite times.

My family came over recently to celebrate a birthday, and my niece, as usual, had a great time.  We ran around the house with a birthday balloon, played with the squeaky toy eggs, drew pictures on the Magnadoodle, and read a Mickey Mouse Clubhouse book.  When it was time to leave, my niece complained emphatically, "I don't want to go home!!!!!"  Isn't that the perfect response from a guest?  I hope all of our company enjoys being here so much that they are sorry to see the get-together end.

The Shady Rest

When I was a teenager, I loved watching re-runs of Petticoat Junction on TV Land.  There was something so appealing and wholesome about life at the Shady Rest Hotel.  The family wasn't perfect.  Billy Jo, Bobby Jo, and Betty Jo got into their share of problems.  Uncle Joe's schemes usually didn't work out.  And Kate, the matriarch of the family, was a widow, so clearly, life hadn't always been easy for her.  But no matter what was going on within the Bradley family, guests were always welcome at the Shady Rest Hotel.  They stayed in a comfortable room, enjoyed hot meals in the dining room with the family, and joined in on sing-alongs around the piano in the lobby.  I always thought that if the Shady Rest were a real hotel, I'd love to go there.

Granted, Petticoat Junction was a hokey show in many ways, but it was full of love, laughter, and family values.  At the Shady Rest, there was a balance between family life and hospitality.  The hotel, after all, was the Bradley family home, and Kate had to juggle her responsibilities as a mother with managing the hotel.  In the idealized world of Hooterville, she performed both of these roles with grace.

We don't live in a place like Hooterville.  We don't have a little train running near our home.  We don't run a hotel, and we don't have three daughters.  But home and hospitality are very important to my husband and me, just as they were at the Shady Rest.

When we married in 2012, my husband had already lived in his house for a decade.  It is a two-story, three-bedroom colonial on a 2.5-acre lot in the country.  It's on a dirt road, and the house is surrounded by woods.  I grew up in the suburbs, and I love doing things in the city.  So moving to the country was an adjustment for me.  We briefly considered moving--but my husband would never be happy living in a suburban neighborhood, and there are a number of things about our location that are very appealing.  Our house is a good compromise for us.  It's not too far out of the city, so the shopping, restaurants, and amusements I enjoy in the city/suburbs aren't too far away.  But it's far enough out to satisfy my husband's love of the country.  So we decided to stay put for the long-term.

I will never love how muddy my car gets driving on the dirt road, or the necessity of a septic tank instead of a municipal sewer, or the not-so-appealing well water.  But there are many aspects of country life that I have learned to love.  I enjoy how quiet it is.  In the summertime, the woods create a great deal of privacy, as well as providing ample shade to help keep the house cooler.  And when snow falls in the winter, the woods look gorgeous.

But even though country life has grown on me, there is a big problem with the house:  It was built in 1978, and much of it is still stuck in the '70s.  My husband made a few updates--took down some fuzzy blue wallpaper in the first-floor bathroom, replaced the bright yellow kitchen countertops with blue, updated the family room carpet to a neutral berber.  For the most part, though, he left the house largely as it was, complete with ugly old blue carpet in the master bedroom, a very 1970s bathroom vanity lamp hanging from chains, and family room curtains featuring brown drawings of Independence Hall and Mount Vernon.  He always figured that if he got married someday, his wife would want to decorate, so he didn't put a lot of money into design or decoration.  I'm actually quite grateful for that.

Before we got married, I already had a lot of ideas for how I wanted to decorate the house, and those ideas keep developing.  It has been a collaborative effort between my husband and me.  He is very handy, and he knows the structural/engineering side of the house much better than I do.  He's also great at hunting down awesome discounts for home improvement stores.  I do the aesthetic design--choosing colors, fabrics, type of wood, curtains, wall art, etc.  I love to think about how a room will flow and function, how I can best organize it, how to use color to create the atmosphere I desire.  And because my husband made very few changes to the house, I have a blank slate to work with, and I don't have to feel bad that I am undoing what he did.

As much as I love interior design in and of itself, there are two overarching goals that drive our home projects.  First, we want to convert the old bachelor pad into a beautiful family home that is comfortable and functional for both of us and any children we may have someday.  From the flow of each room and the organization of the closets and cabinets to the feel of the furniture and the appeal of the color, I want our house to be a place we enjoy spending time, a place that works well for our daily routine, a place that satisfies our definition of "home."  Second, we want our home to be warm and inviting to guests.  We may not be running a hotel like the Shady Rest, but hospitality is very important to us.  We love to entertain friends and family, so while designing our home, choosing and arranging furniture, and even organizing the kitchen cupboards, we are seeking to make our house function well for guests.

This is what this blog will be about--home design and hospitality--creating our own version of the Shady Rest where we feel at home and where friends and family receive a warm welcome.