Wednesday, April 22, 2015

What to Pack: Spain & Morocco In Summer

Rob and I are off to Europe for six weeks in May and June! We're starting in Barcelona, where Rob has a conference to attend, then dashing over to Morocco for a couple weeks and ending with a stop in Geneva, Switzerland for another conference and a week in the Alps before returning home.

As always, I'll be packing a small carry-on duffle bag with room to spare for souvenirs. It's going to be a lot hotter on this trip than our visit to Turkey, Greece and Croatia last spring - which means less to carry. Similar to Turkey, it seems like it will be comfortable to be a bit more covered up in Morocco. The exchange rate is great, so I'll pack super light and buy some things over there. Also, I've got a couple business meetings while abroad and need to dress somewhat professionally. I'm thinking a black, green and metallic color scheme will work well:

  • Tunic - This lightweight silk-blend top is supposedly machine washable (also, only $20 when you purchase it in store). If so, I think it will be the perfect to wear mix and matched with the pants and skirt. I'll probably also bring my favorite cotton tunic that we took on the last trip. 
  • Skirt - My favorite new black midi skirt with pockets that I picked up on sale for an incredible $17 at Bloomingdale's.
  • Shoes - These are the most comfortable shoes I've ever tried on! Kenneth Cole's new "Gentle Souls" line is full of super stylish, super walkable designs. I think the gold color works with everything from jeans to dresses - despite the fact Rob thinks they're "granny shoes." I never usually spend $160 on shoes, but have a feeling these will be worth it.
  • Sneakers - It's a debate to take my casual Okinawa Tiger sneakers or a pair of actual running shoes. 
  • Scarf - Good thing I've just picked up a new fascination with wearing turbans. I will be buying all. the. scarves. while abroad. 
  • Sunglasses - From Forever 21 and totally "lose-able."
  • Pants - I picked up a pair of black crepe harem pants with ankle zippers and pockets for $20 at TJ Maxx over Easter. They're so lightweight and breezy, but look much fancier than jeans.
  • Sweater - A metallic gold sweater will be nice for colder evenings. Just don't wear it through airport security where metal in the yarn can set off the detectors. 
  • Blouse - Express offers this blouse in no less than 38 different colors. The convertible sleeves are nice and it can be worn either tucked in on layered with a belt on top of a dress. 
  • Tees - Cotton knit is tough because it stretches out when sink washed and line dried. A basic light tee is so helpful to have though. 
  • Tank - I would never take an actual silk top on vacation, but something similar to this patterned tank from Anthropologie would be a fun piece to mix and match. Maybe this
  • Bikini - I stocked up on Boden bikinis a couple months ago, so this green floral Tory Burch is just for inspiration. 
  • Purse - A small cross-body bag is so nice to have for daily excursions, but a larger tote is crucial for carrying (and hopefully not leaving behind in London) your laptop through airport days. 
  • Maxi Dress - Reader Katie recommended a black maxi dress for our last trip and I wore it all the time. Great for layering with shirts, belts and sweaters. 
  • Not pictured: A lightweight puffy jacket, workout pants, assorted belts, nightgown, pjs, art supplies

Sunday, April 19, 2015

A 5-Step Impromptu Sailing Picnic Party

The only thing that might be nicer than having your own boat is having a friend with a boat - much less sanding!  Last weekend, Rob was in Australia for work and Sarah called to invite me out for a last minute cruise on San Francisco bay with her brother and their friend Todd. He's a sailing instructor with access to a fleet of ships in Sausalito. 

Step 1: Raid the pantry
Thankfully, I had a couple cold bottles of champagne in the fridge, the picnic basket still out from Rob's birthday celebration and enough odds and ends to make a small spread. We packed a tin of carrots, radishes, celery, broccoli and snap peas with greek yoghurt dip. A box of crackers, a package of salami, a leftover piece of brie and truffle mustard filled the second tin. A package of cheddar bunnies was tossed in.  Of course, the very-pirate champagne saber came with us, too.
Step 2: Gear up in your best pirate attire
I put on a nautical outfit of white jeans, light-soled sneakers, various blue tops and sweaters for layering, a windbreaker and a scarf. Sarah and I sampled perfumes while waiting for a ride to Sausalito. Crucial to select just the right spiced rum scent for a day on the open seas.

Step 3: Find your sea legs
We met up with our captain on a 44 foot Sparkman and Stephens sailboat in Sausalito. While Todd finished his lesson, we prepared for a day at sea with (plastic) glasses on champagne punch on the deck.
It was time to cast off before we knew it.
Don't we look yar?
Step 4: Sail under the bridge
Being a talented sailor, Todd had us out to the mouth of the bay in no time at all. We were heeling sharply to catch the most wind - so fun!
Sabered a bottle of champagne to celebrate passing under the bridge.
Perfect timing with the sun just starting to set out at sea as we paused for the photo opportunity.
Step 5: Snack on the way home
The wind was at our back as we turned toward Sausalito - the perfect time to crack open the picnic and enjoy the smooth running back to harbor.  The snacks kept us satiated until we had the boat back in the dock and cleaned off. Everyone came over for big bowls of hearty pasta and garlic bread to warm up at the house after the sail.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

What to Pack: 2 Weeks in Greece and Turkey, Plus a Work Conference

Researching this post made me so nostalgic for our month in Greece last year that I had to run out to get a lamb gyro for lunch!

Shannon from Madison, Wisconsin is headed off for a two week vacation in Greece and Turkey this summer. Crystal blue water, whitewashed beach villas, meze platters galore...and a business conference to boot. She asked for help packing a professional and resort wardrobe into a single carry-on:
I have long appreciated your blog but now have an extra reason to love it. My husband and I are heading to Istanbul and Greece (Athens, Meteora, and Skopelos) this summer for a two week stay and just booked the same Airbnb apartment you recommended. Thank you! It was nice to take some of the guesswork (and tedium) out of the planning. Plus, it's given me a new excitement for the trip. 
If you're up for the challenge, I saw the recent "What to Wear" post you did for Renee as she's heading to London and I, too, have a travel wardrobe conundrum as I embark upon this trip. It's likely going to be very hot in Greece and Turkey. I will be doing a significant amount of sightseeing (read: walking) with a 2.5 day work conference (with a presentation) in the mix. I would like to pack in one weekender bag for the two week trip as I foresee it will be easier to schlep over cobblestone streets than a roller suitcase. 
Can you give me some good recommendations that will be able to work double-duty for me as a tourist and professional? (And some cute, comfy shoes to boot!) I am 5'6", average build although not lacking in the strong legs category, and with brunette hair, blue eyes, and fair skin, look best in jewel tones rather than pastels. 

  • Dress - How perfect is this purple Anthropologie wrap dress? Fancy enough for conference, light enough for vacationing, machine washable, grecian's even on sale!
  • Scarf - You'll have plenty of opportunity to buy delicate textiles in Greece and Turkey. Scarves are helpful for entering churches and having picnics on the beach. This Forever 21 version is a good proxy. 
  • Shirts - These kinds of floaty "chiffon" tops are great for traveling. They don't wrinkle, work well layered and are easily washed in a sink and air dried overnight. This emerald green top and royal blue blouse are fancy enough to wear with trousers or a skirt at the conference or with shorts when you're on vacation.
  • Pants - Trim navy pants from J Crew are fancy enough for the conference with a blouse and casual enough for a dinner at night on the Acropolis steps.
  • Sandals - Some conferences are weird about open toe shoes - but this pair of Cole Haan wedge sandals seems like they would be a safe enough choice. Plus, they'd look like two different pairs of shoes when the ankle strap is hidden by pants.  
  • Oxfords - A pair of broken-in oxfords can be as comfy as sneakers but much more stylish. Wear this ivory pair along with the trousers or midi skirt. Being able to wear socks is nice for big city walk days.
  • Tunic - Wear this lightweight Michael Kors tunic with leggings in Turkey (it isn't required, but I felt more comfortable a bit covered up in Istanbul with all those mosques) and as a beach coverup in Greece. Maybe even over the trousers if the cut is just right.
  • Tee - A loose, nautical top will look right at home on the Aegean coast. 
  • Skirt - A breezy, bright midi skirt is another piece that works both at the conference and on your travels. 
  • Bikini - This floral two piece from TopShop is bright and pretty. 
  • Hat - A packable sunhat is easy to purchase over there if you don't have one yet. 
  • Sunglasses - Mirrored aviators will look stylish on the beach. 
Not pictured: A trusty light maxi dress for layering, a couple basic t-shirts and tanks, a couple belts, one workout outfit, a pair of sneakers, jewelry to fancy-up the conference outfits one sweater or jacket in case it gets cold (and to wear on the plane).

Don't pack: Jeans will be too hot and too heavy for your trip.

Friday, April 10, 2015

What to Pack: 6 Weeks in London

Renée is wrote in asking for help with packing for a trip to London for a six weeks with her husband and kids:
I adore your What to Wear posts, and I'm hoping you might be able to help me pick a "uniform" for an upcoming extended trip to London. I'll be spending six weeks there in May and June -- my husband is teaching a university course and I'm taking a six-week leave from work so I can go with him. We'll be staying in a flat right on Trafalgar Square, hooray! I plan to spend my days sightseeing, checking out all the outdoor markets, and taking my three kids (ages 6, 4, and 2) to playgrounds and parks. A cross-body bag and comfortable walking shoes are a must. Also, I love love interesting/unexpected color combinations (like Boden does so well). Any suggestions for a casual but pulled-together outfit that will work for an about-town 40-year-old mom from the U.S.?
My favorite colors are the bold ones: jewel tones and navy, red, etc. I don't like or look good in pastels. I'm athletic and in good shape, but am pear-shaped so I tend to favor darker pants and jeans over lighter ones, though if they're a flattering cut I can get away with light grey grey, khaki, etc. I love dresses and skirts too so long as they flatter a pear shape. 
I've traveled quite a bit in Europe but never to London, so I have no idea how people dress there. I'd love your suggestions! 
The weather in London in the spring and early summer is kind of like San Francisco's - temps are in the low 60's with colder nights. Sounds like layers will be key. Usually, I recommend packing light and picking up new things while you're traveling but with kids in tow and the exchange rate still not amazing, you're better purchasing most of what you'll need in the US. To save space in your luggage (so you can bring back more tins of shortbread), pick a single color scheme where everything will mix and match easily: 

Coat - Your raincoat will likely be in a LOT of photos during your trip. This breton striped rain jacket from Boden will look cute and is fairly lightweight. 
Dress - A basic, $64 midi dress that is ready to be layered like crazy. The tank cut means you can easily top it with sweaters and/or add layers underneath. 
Shirt - Pindots add a bit of extra style to this classic chambray shirt. You can wear it under or over the dress and with the pants or skirt.
Sweater - A navy blue boyfriend cardigan will be a helpful layer to bring with you for any of the outfits. 
Skirt - This pretty Boden skirt is 50% off right now. Super light and packable looking. 
Tee - A couple tees in different shades of red, gray and blue to mix and match. This particular raisin color would look nice under the dress, with a belt on top. 
Blouse - Maybe splurge on a Liberty of London blouse while you're there.
Scarf - Another fun item to pick up when you're traveling. This blue and red scarf is from Urban Outfitters.
Sneakers -A pair of slightly-fancier sneakers will blend right in with "continental" styles.
Pants - A pair of your favorite navy pants, a bit on the fancier side with a trim cut that can also work when rolled up with sneakers.
Wedges - Cole Haan's Nike Air wedges are the most flexible shoes you can take traveling. They look a bit fancy and are comfortable enough to wear eight hours at a museum.
Boots - A pair of fancy wellies would be a fun souvenir from your trip and really nice to have on hand while you're there.
Purse - A mint green cross-over bag from Kate Spade adds a nice bright dash of color to the combos.
Sunglasses - A cute bright blue pair of sunglasses from Forever 21.

Also: Pack a set of opaque navy blue tights for when it's cold, a couple more flexible sweaters and tops for layering, a workout outfit in case you want to be sporty, a pair of go-with-everything jeans, socks, a couple belts and other accessories to mix and match.

Bonus: the EmilyStyle guide to London from our trip a few years ago!

Monday, April 06, 2015

A (Somewhat Gluten-Free) Easter Bridal Tea Party for Margaret

Easter weekend is a lovely time for a bridal shower, especially if you're honoring someone as great as Margaret! Spring is the air, everyone has pretty dresses, out-of-town family are visiting. For this shower, I planned an easy menu with plenty of options for the gluten-free guests.

Tea, lavender lemonade and champagne
Spring crudités
Cucumber feta, smoked salmon and turkey swiss mosaic tea sandwiches
Sea salt brownies
Green tea meringues
French macarons
Lavender berry scones with whipped cream and lemon curd

The Decorations
I brought a bunch of silver down from San Francisco with me, blue and white tablecloths and my grandmother's blue embroidered napkins. The night before the party, I made a simple paper bunting with paper eggs - some speckled with watercolor paint - to hang from the chandelier and mantelpiece.
The Flowers
I purchased fresh white and purple lilacs, tuberose and purple iris. Cut sage, jasmine, tea roses, lavender and greens from my mother's garden to make one large arrangement in a blue ceramic vase and four smaller in my great-grandmother's handblown blue glass goblets.

The Food
To make things easier (we would entertain another 29 guests at my parent's house that weekend),  I purchased all the food we needed at Trader Joe's on Friday. Delicious mini brownies, palmiers and (gluten-free!) green tea meringues made for one lovely platter.
The mosaic-style open face tea sandwiches required the most work. The cucumber sandwiches were made with feta herb spread and pea shoots on white bread. Smoked salmon with caper spread topped hearty nut bread with a small slice of lemon. Turkey and swiss on rye with horseradish mustard. I made a second set of all three kinds of sandwiches on gluten-free bread for the dietary-restricted guests.
The scones were fresh baked using a Trader Joe's mix and added lavender.
Finally, stacked up macarons (also gluten-free!) with fresh strawberries on a tiered stand.
The Drinks
Guests had a choice of hot tea or lavender lemonade with or without chilled champagne.
The Guests 
We had nine people to celebrate Margaret's upcoming wedding. A mix of family and old friends.
Loved the pretty green blouse and floral skirt Margaret picked for her special day!
Is there anything more appealing than a plate of delectable, tiny foods!
The Activity
I'm not much for bridal shower games. Instead, we had the guests decorate wood Easter ornaments for Margaret.
A fun memento for her future Easter decorations!
The Gifts
Margaret received thoughtful presents from the guests, with lots of pretty bows for her rehearsal bouquet.
Little Ev helped deliver the cards to the bride.
A family friend generously passed down her grandmother's Noritake wedding china to Margaret. An amazing gift and something Margaret will surely treasure!
The Guestbook
Lastly, we had everyone sign a small watercolor painting I made for Margaret to commemorate the occasion.
It was fun to make and should be a special addition to her wedding album.

Monday, March 30, 2015

5 Steps for a Chinese-Inspired Picnic at China Camp Village in Marin, CA

Last year, Rob and I were jetlagged in Istanbul for his birthday - his 40th! - and didn't do much to celebrate. So this year, it was time for a huge bike ride and beach party with a bunch of friends. I coordinated with super helpful volunteers from China Camp State Park in Marin to pick the right spot for 30 guests last weekend.

Shuck-your-own Hog Island oysters
Vegetarian sesame lo mein noodles
Hoisin pulled pork sandwiches with cabbage slaw (inspired by this)
Snacks including sriracha popcorn, wasabi peas, fresh berries
Ginger jasmine green tea lemonade
Local microbrewed beers
Chocolate brownies
Step 1: Shop
On Friday, I purchased Chinese egg noodles, rice vinegar, a massive 11 pound pork loin, celery, popcorn, tofu, jicama brownie mix, beer, jalapenos, sesame seeds, cabbage and cucumbers at Safeway. Already had tahini, sesame oil, sriracha, Soy Vay hoisin sauce, jasmine tea, cocktail sauce, and peanut butter at home. Picked up more cabbage, cilantro, sugar snap peas, carrots, ginger and lemons at farmer's market.  Hard to say, but I think I spent about $120 in grocery supplies (including the rolls and oysters we purchased Saturday) to serve 30 people.
Step 2: Prep
First thing was to cut the huge pork loin into three inch chunks and start it cooking on low heat in the hoisin sauce. This would be perfect for a crock-pot (which I don't have) but works just fine on the stovetop in a dutch oven.
Then, on to making  a double batch of the sesame noodles with sugar snap peas, carrots, celery, cucumber and jicama.  A simple slaw with napa, red and standard cabbage topped with cilantro, salt, sugar, rice vinegar and lemon juice.  Cut up fresh ginger and combined it with lemonade and a strong brew of jasmine green tea and put it in a brown glass growler.
Baked two pans of chocolate chip brownies in pie tins. The pork finished cooking about 6 hours after we started and was SO good. I don't think I'll ever make regular pulled pork - the hoisin variety is too delicious. I also made a small portion of hoisin tofu for the vegetarians.
Step 3: Pack
I've amassed a fantastic set of picnic supplies over the years including a set of tin Mottahedeh picnic plates, a picnic basket from my dad and sister, and pretty clear plastic "glassware." The night before, I packed up three tablecloths, cloth napkins, forks, serving spoons, straw placemats, oyster shucking supplies and platters.

Step 4: Last Minute Prep
We loaded up the food, bikes and supplies into the car in the morning and headed out. But first, a quick stop at the Ferry Building farmer's market for 25 seeded challah rolls from Acme Bread and three dozen oysters from Hog Island.

Step 5: Party! 
We arrived at China Camp village in San Rafael at 10 am. Riders from Rob's Super Pro team followed us in and everyone geared up for their two hour ride through the park.
My nephew Ev and I waited at the beach for the riders to return. He is currently very into ROCKS! and it seems like we picked up the entire beach. We also walked the pier and visited the volunteer-run museum that shows the history of the shrimp fishing village.
The women riders arrived back first. We started in on the sriracha popcorn, kettlecorn, wasabi peas, potato chips and ginger punch.
We set up the picnic a few minutes before the men riders came back from their trails.
The challah rolls from Acme were so pretty!
This recipe for sesame noodles came out really well too. I'll definitely make it again.
Yum! We all dug in to make picnic plates with the salad and pulled pork sandwiches.
We ended up having just enough food for everyone - I was nervous about it!
Once we got started on the buffet, I asked some helpers to shuck oysters. We served them ice cold from the cooler with lemon or cocktail sauce.
Getting too hot to stay in the sun, the party relocated to the shady meadow next to the picnic site to eat the chocolate brownies. The small children orbited us with occasional gifts of ROCKS! and sour grass flowers.
So many ROCKS! from Ev. He was in heaven.
Things started to wind down at 4:00 and we said goodbye to our friends one by one. The kids were the very last to leave the beach as the tide was coming back in.
Happy birthday, Rob!