Friday, July 30, 2010

Setting the Table Like a Pro

Every time I set the table the same exact thought goes through my head…how is it possible that I still don’t know the proper place to put this dagum fork?  I don’t know whether I reached my limit today or curiosity simply got the best of me, but I just had to look up how to create a “correct” table setting.  Apparently there are several schools of thought on the matter…my search for truth lead me to seek council from the highest authority in etiquette- the queen of class, Emily Post.  Here’s what I found:

Your place setting is determined by your meal…silverware is selected and placed based on the number and nature of courses.  For a casual meal, center a plate with it’s corresponding chair and put a napkin to the plate’s left.  The napkin’s fold goes inside of the place setting, closest to the plate.  If you’re using a triangle shape the point will face out…if you’re folding your napkin into a rectangle, the edge should.  On the left side, on top of the napkin, place your fork.  On the right side of the plate place the knife (cutting edge towards the plate), followed by the spoon to the right of the knife.  Finish by putting the water glass at a 45 degree angle to the center of the plate.  Voila!  A perfectly set table.

If you’re looking to set something even fancier, check out these images straight from the Emily Post Institute.  

Yes, some are guilty of using utensils in excess….but it makes the table feel special, don’t you think?  The general rule in using silverware is to work from the outside, in.  The utensils for the first appetizer should be furthest from the plate and progress through the meal accordingly.  No more than three of any type of utensil should be used in the place setting…if more are needed, they should be brought out as required.  It’s simple enough, huh?  I almost can’t wait to set the table tomorrow!
Thursday, July 29, 2010

I Love Technology...Always and Forever

When it comes to Mac products, I’m admittedly quick to drink the Koolaid and pine after their latest and greatest technological wonders.  It just so happens that fortune recently smiled on me and my AT&T contract was eligible for an upgrade when the iPhone 4 was released, making me the proud owner of the best…phone…ever.  After getting over the initial shock of how amazing this phone is, I went into a downloading frenzy.  I’ve found quite a few gems, but my favorite thus far is an App called Plethora Design Inspiration Gallery.  If you have an i-anything you should check it out ASAP!  It’s free, so you literally have nothing to loose but the ten seconds it takes to download it.  Plethora provides it’s users access to an extremely extensive image gallery of the most creative graphic design, branding, art and illustration, photography, architecture, and interior design I’ve ever seen.  They hand pick qualified contributors to submit ideas, then review every submission to make sure it meets their standards.  About 19% make the cut and are posted.  In the past week alone over 827 new images were added, so you can count on seeing brand new inspiration every time you open the App.  Seriously…it’s amazing.  If you’re looking for a design concept that’ll make you go ‘whoa’, Plethora has thousands to offer.  I’d go as far as to say that many of their posts are so outside the box they blur the line between reality and design.  Here are just a few of the images and links I found today.  To download this App and check it out for yourself, search for Plethora in the App store or click here.  You’re gonna be amazed at what you’ll find!

Unreasonably expensive ($50,000+!!) but incredibly cool nonetheless.

This converted attic space is located in Spain.  The designer’s use of space interceptions and merging was totally brilliant.  Love it.  

Although initially confused by the physics of this sculpture (how is it standing?!), I was blown away by this disappearing traveler.  Takes the idea of ‘searching for missing pieces’ to a whole new level.

An idea as captivating as it is bizarre.  I was very much intrigued.

99 hand drawn picture frames filled with tributes to NYC.  

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Brick House

Ever since I was old enough to consider what I would want in a house of my own, I’ve dreamed of at least one space with interior brick walls.  If that sounds stark to you, it may be because you’re not seeing the completed picture my mind is privy to…in my imagination it’s an absolutely luxurious space.  While the opportunity to incorporate brick in my home has yet to present itself, I’m bursting at the seams with ideas to integrate it.  While most people wouldn’t automatically peg brick as an extremely versatile look, it’s really quite the chameleon.  With the right wash you can use it to accomplish a loft, bohemian, French country, Tuscan, modern or rustic look.  If you’re lucky enough to live in a home with some brick interior or if you’re simply a fellow admirer of the look, then enjoy these pictures of a few of my favorite brick spaces.  

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Attracting Hummingbirds

I’m pretty sure Summer just started, so why does it already feel like it’s almost over?  Can somebody slow things down, please?  I don’t know about you, but I plan to savor every moment we have left in this wonderful season- starting with the view from my parents’ kitchen table.  Although my Mom and Dad’s house is gorgeous no matter what the season, Summer offers a special view of my favorite visitors to the property…hummingbirds!  Turns out hummingbirds are a lot like most men- if you feed them, they will come.  We’ve got a few feeders hanging by the kitchen windows to keep our tiny friends buzzing around and they work like a charm.  Somehow it doesn’t matter how often they come around…it never gets old.  They just don’t look real!  If you’re up for a visit from a hummingbird family near you, try one of these tricks of the trade.

Plant a Hummingbird Garden

Hummingbirds don’t have a great sense of smell, but they are incredibly visual.  Most flowers that attract them are brightly colored and produce a lot of nectar.  Try a few of the following; Azalea, Butterfly Bush, Cape Honeysuckle, Flowering Quince, Mimosa, Red Buckeye, Coral Honeysuckle, Cypress Vine, Morning Glory, Trumpet Creeper, Columbine, Hosta, Fuchsia, Impatiens, and Petunia.

Buy a Hummingbird Feeder

Some Hummingbird feeders are nearly as lovely as the birds themselves.  I especially like this $30 Ruby Red faceted glass and copper piece.  Hummingbirds are said to be attracted to red, so just fill it with sugar water (1 Part Sugar, 4 Parts Water, Boil 1-2 Minutes, Cool & Store In Refrigerator) and you’re on your way.  

Purchase a Small Fountain

Like all birds, hummingbirds love running water.  If it’s practical for your yard, consider a small bird bath fountain like this minimally invasive Copper Solar Birdbath from Target.
Monday, July 26, 2010

Pierre Bonnard and Color

I never get tired of talking about color.  It holds the power to enliven, depress, demand attention or recede…which, plainly put, never ceases to astound me.  Color discoveries aren’t always easy to come by, but when they happen it’s like magic.  What is more beautiful than the right combination of colors?  I recently came across a brilliant French artist named Pierre Bonnard who lived from the late 1800’s to the mid 1900’s.  After seeing some of his work during last week’s trip to the Philadelphia Museum of Art, and I had to highlight his brilliant use of color.  He’s known worldwide for it and his work begged to be shared.  Whether he’s chosen muted, bright or a unique combo of both types of colors, his pieces literally dazzle.  His technique favors Van Gogh, but it’s color that sets him apart.  Here are a few of my favorite pieces.  

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

The Proper Glass

The more I realize how much work goes into the production of wine, the more eager I am to partake in the full wine experience.  If that means buying a series of trappings and frills, so be it.  Today and tomorrow we’re going to highlight some of the follow-up purchases you can make to get the most out of your wine.  For starters, lets touch on wine glasses.

Wine is complex, so there are a lot of factors that contribute to it’s success or failure even once it’s out of the hands of it’s maker.  Temperature, for example, changes the taste of a wine altogether, which is why you should only hold your wine glass by the stem whenever possible.  Believe it or not, the heat from your hand has the capacity to cheapen decades of work.

There’s no limit to the amount of glasses a wine connoisseur may have, but at the very least it’s great to have the basic red wine and white wine options.  Red wine glasses are typically rounder with a wider bowl.  Remember, nothing is arbitrary…the reason for this is to give the wine more space to “breathe”.  The two most popular red wine glasses are Bordeaux (dry) and Burgundy (sweet)- their shape directs the wine to different parts of the mouth (Bordeaux- directs to the back of the mouth, Burgundy- directs to the tip of the tongue) so if you can’t choose both at least you get the one that compliments your taste in wine.

White wine glasses are narrower, which allows them to better keep a chilled temperature.  Champagne flutes are narrower still, with a bowl shape designed to keep their carbonation.  If you find it difficult to justify purchasing sets of so many different glasses or even if you simply can’t afford it, go with a narrow tulip-shaped glass (like one you would normally choose for white wine).  It’s not ideal, but it’s the most versatile. 
Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Selecting Wine

One of the most delightful things in life is the miracle of recognizing a moment while you’re still in it rather than in retrospect.  While this isn’t hard to accomplish for the big milestones…graduations, weddings and such…it’s often quite a feat in everyday life.  I’m happy to report that I’m in the midst of one.  As a human, I live for moments like these.  As a writer, I find they are my Everest.  After several erased attempts to describe the last few hours, I’ve conceded to the fact that my description is all but inadequate.  It gives the moment no justice.  The best I can do is forgo flowery language and tell you that there’s no where else in the world I’d rather be right now than right where I am… under the vine-covered arbor my father built, catching whiffs of his cigar, listening to the Pride and Prejudice CD, and talking about wine.  This is my little piece of heaven on earth.  My Dad is larger than life, and as he tells me of his attempts to experience wine down to the taste of earth and sunshine, I can’t help but feel that (contrary to what the Dos Equis advertising campaign suggests) he is the actual most interesting man in the world.  While I may never be able to appreciate wine on the same level as my father, he has imparted in me a keen awareness that wine can be as beautiful as it is dangerous.  Choosing a good wine can be a complex process…in fact, there are entire books, magazine publications, and organizations dedicated to the process.  I can’t offer a comprehensive guide to wine selection, but I can give you some pointers on where to start.

This week’s posts build on each other more than usual, so if you haven’t read yesterday’s and want to familiarize yourself with a few basic wine terms before we go on, click here.  If you’re just starting out in your quest for wine education, making a successful selection comes down to answering a few basic questions…How sweet?...How strong?...And what flavors are you looking for?  While that may be oversimplifying things a bit in the future, it’s all you need to worry about for now.  Essentially all the information you need to make a good choice can be found by thoroughly reading the label (which will tell you everything from type, variety, flavor, region and vintage of the wine and sometimes even offer food pairing suggestions).  While red wine is traditionally paired with heavier foods and white wine with lighter, it really comes down to what you prefer to drink.  It may take awhile to discover your favorites as every vintage, brand and grape is different, but here are a few basic guidelines on what you can expect from ten of the top varieties of wine.

Red (Sweetest to Driest)

Pinot Noir- 
Varietal Aromas: cherry, strawberry, raspberry, rose petal, rosemary, cinnamon, rhubarb
Processing Bouquets: oak, vanilla, coconut, cedar

Varietal Aromas: currant, black cherry, plum, violet, rose, caramel, clove
Processing Bouquets: vanilla, coconut, oak, truffle, coffee

Varietal Aromas: black currant, blackberry, grass, licorice, clove, thyme, sandalwood, cedar
Processing Bouquets: musk, truffle, earth, vanilla, coconut, oak, cedar, cigar box, leather

Varietal Aromas: blackberry, plum, pepper, cherry, earth chocolate
Processing Bouquets: berries, plum, coffee, tobacco

Red Zinfandel-
Varietal Aromas: raspberry, blackberry, boysenberry, cranberry, black cherry, licorice, nettle, cinnamon, black pepper
Processing Bouquets: tutti-frutti, candy, bubblegum, vanilla, coconut, oak, tar, musk, earth, leather, cedar

Cabernet Sauvignon-
Varietal Aromas: black currant, blackberry, black cherry, ginger, green peppercorn
Processing Bouquets: vanilla, coconut, oak, smoke, tar, cedar, cigar box, musk, earth, leather

White (Sweetest to Driest)

Pinot Grigio
Varietal Aromas: lemon, apple, pear
Processing Bouquets: vanilla, sweet wood, almond, smoke, butter, cream

Varietal Aromas: rose petal, violet, apple, pear, peach, apricot
Processing Bouquets: terpene, diesel, kerosene, flint, steel, gunmetal

Savingon Blanc
Varietal Aromas: grass, lemon-grass, gooseberry, grapefruit, lime, melon
Processing Bouquets: vanilla, sweet wood, butter, cream, oak, smoke, toast, flint

Varietal Aromas: apple, pear, peach, apricot, lemon, lime, orange, tangerine, pineapple, banana, mango, guava, kiwi, acacia
Processing Pouquets: butter, cream, hazelnut, vanilla, coconut, oak, smoke, yeast, flint, mint
Monday, July 19, 2010

Wine Week

Based on my observations, one of the best ways to ensure an interesting week is to make a declaration of some sort.  It doesn’t matter whether you’re declaring war, independence or lunchtime…there are certain terms that just plain demand to be listened to.  So hear ye, hear ye: I declare from now until Friday “Wine Week”.  Here are a few terms that will sharpen your basic wine IQ and prepare you for the week ahead.  It’s gonna be a good one!

Acid: An aspect of taste in a wine. Sometimes described as sour or tart. The taste buds that detect acid are on the sides of the tongue. The acidity of a wine is an important component that should be in proper balance. Proper acidity provides crispness and life to the wine.

Balance: Harmony or "being in tune" among the various components of wine, fruit, tannins, alcohol and acidity.

Body: The texture and weight of a wine. The more substantial and flavorful a wine tastes, the more body it has.

Bouquet: The array of aromas in a wine. Also known as "the nose".

Complex: In wine-speak, this is a positive term, referring to lots of different flavor and aroma components in a wine.
Dry/Off Dry: Little or no sugar = "dry", slightly sweeter = "off dry".

Vintage is the process of picking grapes and creating the finished product. A vintage wine is one made from grapes that were all, or primarily, grown and harvested in a single specified year.