Monday, January 24, 2011


About a week ago, I celebrated another birthday. I love birthdays because they offer the opportunity to do my favorite things--gather, connect and create joy together.
However, I've never liked birthday celebrations that are all about me. This year, I wanted all the good things that come along with a celebration--festivity, laughter and community, but I didn't want the focus on me. So, instead of having my friends or family throw a party in honor of me, I  threw a party in honor of something very important to me: women.
This birthday party in which I focused on celebrating a group of people I feel passionate about was a perfect solution--it allowed me to celebrate a community I love and myself, at the same time.
Here are some tips to plan your own birthday party premised on one of your passions:
  • Think about the identities that define you the most. Are you a painter? A triathlete? A gardener? What communities do you belong to? Think about which activities make you feel most yourself when you're doing them. If you're drawing a blank, start out by making a list of your five primary identities and choose one to inspire your birthday theme.
  • Decide on an activity. It may be related to the identity of pursuit you want to celebrate, like a day in the garden with your gardening friends. Or a studio night with your artist friends. Maybe, it's simply a shared meal together or a good old-fashioned party.
  • Choose an aesthetic theme for your celebration. If you're a gardener, maybe the theme is green. If you're a writer, maybe you'll incorporate words. If you're a world traveler, you could start by replicating the aesthetic from one of your favorite countries. Because my theme was women, I decided to throw a dinner party where everyone would be free to chat and connect without distraction. I set a feminine table incorporating fresh cut roses, my finest linens, my most delicate china, beautiful crystal stemware and antique silverware. The guests oohed and ahhed, appreciating every element on the table. 
Other helpful questions I asked myself to round out my birthday theme included: 
  1. What time of day should this party take place?
  2. What kind of music fits this theme? Which kind of menu will enhance the party the most?
  3. In lieu of gifts, is there a project or activity related to the theme that we can do together in honor of my birthday?
This years birthday celebration was a beautiful gathering. I felt both celebrated and fulfilled, having spent the evening in a community I love, honoring and sharing all the things we have in common. I can't think of a better way to commemorate the passage of another year, than that.

*Photo by John Granen courtesy of Coming Home: A Seasonal Guide to Creating Traditions. Published by Abrams: Stewart, Tabori & Chang

Monday, January 10, 2011

Chicken Soup

"It's so cold outside!"

In January, the heart of winter, staying warm is just about the only thing we can think about. In this time of year, we crave food that heats us from the inside out. However, we're not so far away from the holidays either. Light, clean cooking is the order du jour. But there's the bur--we want warm and filling but also light and clean. How to strike a balance? It's tricky.

I start with Leftover Chicken Soup. The clear broth keeps this dish from becoming too substantial. The vegetables make it fresh. The carcass of a previously roasted chicken imparts a wonderful, satisfying depth of flavor, and the noodles make this soup a classic comfort food dish. Leftover Chicken Soup makes a good winter meal because you can cook a big pot, eat some and freeze the rest for another blustery winter's night. Enjoy with a full-bodied red wine, Umbrian Montefalco and Montepulciano from Tuscany are two of my favorites, along with a loaf of fresh, crusty bread.

Leftover Chicken Soup (serves 8)

2 large carrots - cut into 1/4 inch rounds
2 large celery ribs  - chopped into 2 inch crescents
Carcass and pan drippings from a roasted chicken
1 lb parpardelle noodles (wide egg noodles)

1. Fill a large stock pot halfway full with water. Add the carrots, celery, chicken carass and pan drippings. Bring to a boil over high heat.
2. Boil for 5 minutes then reduce to a simmer.
3. Remove carcass, stripping off all loose meat. Add meat back to pot.
4. Cook over low heat for 1 hour.
5. Just before serving, add the pasta. Parpardelle comes in nests. Crack the uncooked nests in two before adding so the noodles aren't too long.
6. Cook at a simmer for 15 min or until noodles are soft.
7. Serve hot in low, shallow bowls
8. Make sure to save some for your children's lunch tomorrow!

*Photo courtesy of John Granen for Coming Home: A Seasonal Guide to Creating Family Traditions. Published by Abrams: Stewart, Tabori & Chang.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Nesting: Part 2

By Rosanna's eldest daughter, Alessandra Wollner

A few weeks ago I wrote a post called Nesting: Part 1. It explored the experience of setting up house in one’s first “Big Girl Home,” paying special attention to the magic formula that makes a house a home. 

The recipe, I’ve found, is endlessly adaptable and more than amenable to improvisation. 

I discover new ingredients every day. The best part is that these ingredients show me how to combine them so that together, their contributions make this new home sing. 

Here are some words to describe what I’m talking about:
Sleepover Magic
I want to live in a space where guests feel supremely comfortable. In fact, my secret goal is to make them feel so comfortable they never want to leave. When guests end up feeling that good you know what happens next—sleepovers! 

Making people feel welcome is a priority. Having a place to put them is an imperative. I don’t have a guestroom yet. Somehow, that never seems to deter our friends from bunking down. Besides, extra sleeping accommodations that are finagled rather than formal seem like much more fun to me.  To arrange your own ad hoc sleeping arrangements, consider buying one of the following: 

Sleeping bag and inflatable camping pad
Air mattress
Extra-wide couch
Fold-out couch 

Each space asks for a different approach. It depends on the room and furniture you have to work with. Extra sleeping space in Magic House came to us in the form of a large, overstuffed green couch from our local second hand store. Like the house, the couch is magic. It’s so inviting that to look at it is to hear it issuing its sole command: 


Magic House, meet Magic Couch

Dishes For The Masses 
Always have enough dishes to set the table for a crowd. Being the daughter of a dinnerware designer and therefore guaranteed free dinnerware for life, telling other people to make sure they have enough dishes might be a little insensitive. Let me qualify that statement: 

Having lots of dishes doesn’t mean owning 20 identical place settings down to the fish forks. Just make sure you have enough surfaces for people to eat off of. Mismatched settings don’t have to be a last resort. It can very easily look deliberate. In fact, my favorite dining room aesthetic is mismatched vintage silverware. Making your own set is a simple matter or rescuing it from your local junk shop and investing in a jar of silver polish. 

Also, make sure to have a collection of real dinnerware—ceramic, porcelain, melamine, or bamboo—whatever. It may look like a hodgepodge in the cabinet, but once the table is set, it won’t make a difference if not a single plate matches. You’ll be surprised how far a little intentionality can go.

My mom's ode to mismatched dishes- Boho Holiday

I like mismatched silverware.

Systematize Your Sounds 
iHome, subwoofers, floor speakers—do it an way you want, so long as it amplifies sound. 

Like ambient lighting and original art, audible music plays a crucial role in the creation of an atmosphere. While you’re at it, whip up a handful of go-to playlists for different kinds of gatherings—brunch/drinks/dinner party/partyparty/outdoor picnic/teatime/late night rendez-vous. 

Bring the World Home. 
I spent 1/3 of last summer in Morocco. While there, I sat on the ground a lot. I loved the laid-back feeling of Moroccan floor seating. Sitting on the floor instantly makes thing less formal, more egalitarian, and a little sillier. After traveling through Morocco, an incredible, fulfilling, and profoundly educational experience for me, I knew I wanted floor seating in my home.

Let the world make impressions on you. We’re all just little lumps of clay waiting to be shaped by our experiences, right? Create a living space that incorporates the places, people, and adventures that have impacted you. This is what makes us who we are. Keeping them in front of your face, and part of your daily life can become a potent reminder of selfhood.  

My sendup to Moroccan floor seating

I didn’t realize it at the time, but when I wrote Nesting: Part 1 I was a little cuckoo. Completely in the clutches of homemaking-mania. Fortunately, an enforced nesting hiatus due to a trip to Seattle gave me some valuable perspective on process. 

Before the holidays, I was running around like a frantic squirrel to secure every single solitary element that would transform this naked space into Magic House. I toggled between hunting down the vintage typewriter I’ve been fantasizing about to securing a decent-looking kitchen table (both of which, by the way, we still don’t have). I was Veruca Salt from Charlie and The Chocolate Factory; I wanted it all and I wanted it now.   

By the time I left for Seattle, we had most of the basics—a couch, a coffee table, beds, ambient lighting, towels, pots and pans. Wine glasses. Like I said, the basics. As I looked around at what we had accomplished, this Something we had already whipped up out of Nothing, I thought, “For now, this is enough. More than enough, it’s good.”  

There comes a moment in moving when it’s time to stop pushing. We have entered that phase. Now that the sundries are all here, it’s time to allow our home grow into itself on its own terms and time frame. 

I still have dreams about how Magic House will eventually look. And make no mistakes—we will find that typewriter. Someday. 

For now though, what we have is more than enough. In fact, for now it’s perfect. 

And guess what? 
It feels like home.

Me and Patrick, my lovely friend and roommate