Wednesday, July 23, 2014

What to Wear: Summer Errands in San Francisco

Busy, busy getting ready for tomorrow's dinner party and the beach weekend ahead. While I work to prepare a rustic Italian meal, here's a look at a quick running-around-town outfit. Layers are a must in our breezy San Francisco summers:
Sunglasses - I love buying men's sunglasses. Usually cheaper and a bit more stylish. I found these at H&M in Chicago.
Striped Shirt - Does H&M still sell these in ever color imaginable? I have two with navy stripes like this and one with orange for baseball games.
Cardigan - I steal this lightweight sweater from Rob's closet - a real "boyfriend" cardigan! Similar to this from Old Navy.
Jeans - Levi's 524 jeans are the perfect cut in-between skinny and straight. Only $40 and they wear out well.
Boots - I got my natural leather booties with a stacked wood heel on sale from Anthropologie a few years ago. The trick to wearing with jeans is to roll up your cuffs to right above the boot - barista-style.
Purse - My trusty Coach carryall bag that somehow fits my laptop, charger, camera and phone.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

This Week's Dinner Party Plans: Simple Italian

Here's the great thing about throwing a dinner parties: once you start inviting people over, they start inviting you back!  We're not even to our second event in the Weekly Dinner Party Challenge and had our first invitation out.

Last night, Rob and I walked two doors down to have dinner with a friend from his cycling team and his fantastic girlfriend, Mimi. The menu featured pan-roasted salmon, sautéed kale with carrots, brown rice and a lovely tomato corn salad. For dessert, a big bowl of rainier cherries. Delicious!
For our own dinner party this week, I'm going with Cari's suggestion of a simple italian theme. There will be figs and bruschetta...and other good things. Follow along with the planning on Pinterest. I'd love to hear your ideas for the menu!

Monday, July 21, 2014

What to Pack: Beach Weekend in Monterey, California

I am counting down the days to a big family weekend at the beach! We are headed to Pacific Grove, just south of Monterey and north of Pebble Beach, to take over two vacation rentals right near the coast. The weather in Monterey can be foggy and cool, especially in the mornings at the coast, and sunnier during the middle of the day into the mid 70's.

Friday, July 18, 2014

5 Step Dinner Party: A Spanish Summer Feast

Gorgeous food, easily prepared. Great conversation with friends. Meeting new people. Last night's dinner party was everything I love about hosting!  Here's the play-by-play guide:

Spanish-inspired Menu

  • Appetizer of Spanish cheeses
  • Mussels in a chorizo, chickpea, tomato broth
  • Fresh tomatoes with kale pesto dressing
  • Roasted cauliflower
  • Warm crusty baguette
  • Dessert of grapes and spanish dark chocolate

Step 1: Shop. The day before the party, I walked down to Civic Center Farmer's Market to buy tomatoes, parsley, grapes, walnuts, dried peaches and flowers for $20. Rob locked me out of the house on my return, so his punishment was taking a very blogger-y stoop photo.
I also visited the Spanish gourmet market, Nosa Ria, a few blocks away to buy authentic spanish chorizo, two big blocks of cheese, pickles and a massive chocolate bar for $35.
Step 2: Set the Table.  I like to set the table the day before. It's one less thing to worry about the day of the party and it looks so festive! The $5 dahlias from farmer's market were combined with a few sprigs of parsley for the centerpiece.
The rest of the table was set in red and blue with straw placemats, cloth napkins, wedding china and my antique sterling flatware.
I added red flag place cards after this photo was taken.
Step 3: Prep. Cooking ahead of time not only makes the party stress-free but also helps the food's flavors set better. I cooked up a broth for mussels loosely inspired by two recipes, starting with browning chorizo, onions and garlic with olive oil. Added fresh red and yellow tomatoes, white wine and canned chickpeas. So delicious after it simmered for an hour. That Spanish chorizo did all the hard work of seasoning the dish with a smoky flavor.
I also chopped up the cauliflower for roasting the night before.
Step 4: Last minute prep. I had a busy day on Thursday and came rushing home from a networking party an hour before. I bought 4 lbs of fresh mussels and two loaves of crunchy bread for $25 on the way.  Threw together the cheese plate with Manchego, a Spanish bleu cheese, red walnuts, dried peaches and flatbread crackers. On the side, a tray of banderillas, little swords with pickles, olives and onions that come in a jar.
I sliced up beautiful ripe yellow and red tomatoes and topped them with a dash of homemade kale pesto and some fancy finishing salt. Sliced the baguette, turned on the oven and took the mussel broth out of the refrigerator. Tuned into to some Spanish guitar on Spotify and waited for the first guests to arrive.
Step 5: Party time. Guests arrived at 7:00 with wine in tow. We enjoyed the cheeses and pickles in the living room for an hour first. 20 minutes before dinner, I put the cauliflower in the oven to roast. 5 minutes before, I put the bread in along with the first batch of mussels. I dished up bowls of mussels right as everyone sat down. They were SO delicious and couldn't have been easier to prepare.
The tomatoes were also a hit. The cauliflower came out okay, not amazing.  I cooked a second batch of mussels and bread halfway through. For dessert, plates were cleared and replaced with rounds of tea and plates of grapes and spanish chocolate.

Everyone headed home at 10:00. Rob and I washed the silver, a load of dishes and threw out the mussel shells before going to bed.
Food for the whole eight person party cost less than $100. Prep time the day the party amounted to one hour for shopping on foot and one hour for setting the table and prepping food. We have lots of cheese and grapes left over for the rest of the week and a bit of bread for breakfast.

What should the theme be for next week's dinner party menu? You can follow-along with the planning on my Pinterest board.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

What to Wear: Spanish Dinner Party in the Summer

Everything is ready for tonight's dinner party. I stocked up on cheese and chocolate at the Spanish market, Nosa Ria, down the street, made a centerpiece out of dark red dahlias and prepped a chorizo-chickpea broth for the mussels. Now, just to get dressed for tonight's dinner party!

Skirt - A full volume, high waisted midi skirt in red that even comes with pockets. $70 from Express, of all places.
Shirt - A henley tee in eggplant is a subtle yet strong color combination with the skirt. $50 from White House, Black Market.
Sandals - You're at home, you don't technically need shoes, but these flat brown sandals with an ankle strap are too cute. $95 from Seychelles.
Headband - Subdued brass leaves are casually festive from Anthropologie for $28. I always like to wear my hair up when hosting a party. Looks fancy and it's kept out of the way.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Weekly Dinner Party Challenge

It's been quite a year already. Out of the last six months, I've been traveling for five: France, Hawaii, Turkey-Greece-Croatia and Alaska. Whew! Now, we're back in San Francisco and I'm taking on a new adventure.

It's no secret that I'm a bit agoraphobic when it comes to social life. I'd much rather have a dinner party than a night at a posh restaurant; and have to be coerced and dragged out to a bar. To quote Jane Austen: "There is nothing like staying at home for real comfort." So, I'm challenging myself to host weekly dinner parties for the rest of the summer...and you should too!

The idea is to have four people over for dinner, once a week. Ideally, with at least two of the people being someone you don't know well - that way it counts for "networking."

This week, we have six guests coming on Thursday night for a Spanish-themed meal. I'm putting together the menu and cooking as much as I can today, so that it will be a snap to serve everyone tomorrow. Follow my Dinner Party board on Pinterest for the latest and look for a full report shortly!

Will you join me in the dinner party challenge?

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Alaska by RV: What to See, Eat, Explore and Wear for a 2 Week Summer Adventure

Alaska…there’s a reason they call it "The Last Frontier." With 22 hours of functional daylight in the summer, mosquitos, bears and the shaky internet access you fondly remember from 1997, Alaska is not for the faint of heart. It is, however, a gorgeous place to get far off the beaten track, to hike, to gawk at whales and to eat your weight in salmon.
We flew in to Anchorage airport on Alaskan Airlines at the end of June for our 14 day stay. Loaded up on maps and guides at the airport tourism desk - which turned out to be super helpful since we had no internet. Our rented RV - a bit larger than we needed (pro tip: book your RV more than 6 months ahead) - had the full accessories package. There’s essentially one road in Alaska, so it isn’t too hard to avoid getting lost and to find last-minute RV parking along the way. RV parking ranged for $20 to $45 a night.  We cooked most of our meals in the RV - which was fun and budget-friendly. Alaskan produce can be hard to find and expensive. Stock up at Carr’s (Safeway). Look for locally grown potatoes and cabbage along with smoked salmon and reindeer sausage.
We stayed in Anchorage our first day, before driving to Willow, Talkeetna and Healey, Denali National Park, for the northern part of our trip. From Healey, we had a long day of driving (which the 22 hours of daylight helps with nicely) down to stay at Bird Creek south of Anchorage. Then, on to Seward, Hope and Girdwood for the southern section. We had originally planned to see Homer and Kenai, but the extra hours of driving became less appealing toward the end of our trip. Gas for the trip added up to around $400.
Must-See North of Anchorage

  • Talkeetna is an adorable touristy town with nice restaurants, bars and cafes. Walk down to the river for a breathtaking view of Mt. McKinley.  Seems like a good launch point for a guided rafting tour. 
  • Spend a day hiking and wildlife/wildflower spotting at Denali National Park - in any kind of weather. 
  • Load up on German food and microbrewed beer with the locals at 49th State Brewery in Healey.
  • Make an overnight stop in scenic Willow
  • Hike around Byers Lake at Denali State Park

Anchorage (city guide)

  • The new Anchorage museum has a lovely collection of native and contemporary art. Nice gift shop and cafes too. 
  • Snow City’s crab cake eggs benedict are not to be missed.
  • Get the hearty (and boozy) bread pudding with a pitcher of local beer at Humpy’s. 
  • Reindeer sausage from one of the vendors in the heart of town is a delicious and cheap dinner. 
  • Check out Raven’s Roost and Katie Sevigny Studio downtown for unique locally-made  souvenirs like inexpensive birch baskets. 
  • It’s worth taking a second to watch bush planes take off from Merrill Airfield on your way north out of town. This is one of the busiest private airports in the US. 

Must-See South of Anchorage

A high quality sleep-mask is the difference between a lovely restful summer vacation in Alaska and a brief dip toward insanity. The daylight really starts to mess with your body’s clock. Alaska is VERY casual. Having a few good warm sporty outfits for hiking, a good quality rain jacket, lots of socks and layers is key. I was a little torn between bringing Hunter rain boots and cowboy boots, maybe decide based on the weather forecast. Here’s the original Alaskan packing guide for reference.

If you’re hiking, you’ll need to stock up on bear spray at Cabela’s. It’s expensive at $60 and you’re not likely to use it - but better safe than being chewed on by a grizzly. Bug spray is also nice to have, although the mosquitos didn’t bother us too much thanks to mostly being by the coast or in the rain.  No need for one of those mosquito net hats. Espresso is much more prevalent than internet access, check out public libraries to get connected and download maps on your phone.