Thursday, September 15, 2011

Dining Room Redo on a Budget

My husband and I were lucky enough to receive a lovely dining room set from his grandmother when we moved into our home several years ago. It's the only formal room in our home and while I love the furniture and having a place to show off my china, crystal and silver, we're not really formal people.

This summer my mission was to "casualize" our dining room while allowing the furniture and our china, silver, and crystal to shine. And of course, I was on a tight budget!

Thank goodness for Home Goods and Whole Foods! I spent a grand total of $80 and reinvented my dining room table! I bought:
  • a pink and white indoor/outdoor table runner
  • 3 electric candles
  • a large hurricane style glass vase
  • green lentils and mung beans
  • Leaf PlaceTiles

I filled the vase with the mung beans and lentils to add some green to the pink of the table runner. The leaf tiles add just the right touch, plus I can fill them with zinia from my garden, or any other flowers. I love using the natural elements of the beans and leaves to soften the look of my dining room. These items allowed me to bring out the pinks and greens in my china and set a much more casual tone for my dinner guests.

In celebration of the new dining room, I served a delicious seafood stew from Food and Wine. I've made it several times now and the beauty of the dish is that the time consuming part can be made a day ahead. Then when your guests come over, just heat it up and add the seafood. The dish is impressive and you don't have to spend half of your evening in the kitchen!

I served it with grilled sourdough bread and made strawberry shortcake with fresh whipped cream for dessert.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Mantras Are Good

Think positive. Breathe. Write more. Move forward. Exercise. Grow. These are a few examples of my mantras or motivational messages. I write these on my PlaceTile® place cards and my MessageTile® message boards. I strategically place them around my home or office to inspire me to focus or act. They help me get through my day, hectic or otherwise.

Many people, including motivational speakers, leaders, fitness gurus, and clerics, believe writing down your goals, and concentrating on them, will manifest them. 

In the year 2000 when I first started my business, I received a Chinese fortune cookie message that really helped me focus on succeeding in business. I taped it to my computer and looked at it daily so I could remember to keep trying no matter how hard it got. The message was, “You will be unusually successful in business”. Fortunately, the fortune came true! 

I need different mantras at different times, some to help move me forward with work, and some to help me keep perspective.  The good news is that the PlaceTiles and MessageTiles can be wiped off easily and I can replace my mantras whenever needed.

So what are some of your mantras?

Yesterday’s Goal: Write more. And here it is.
Today’s Goal: Reflection is good.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Wine Tastings From The Cheif Wineaux


With the kids back in school and vacations over we begin the ritual of settling into fall.  With the leaves turning and the air chilly, what better time to get friends and family together for a wine tasting.  It’s been my experience that if your theme is well chosen, even the non-wine drinkers, much to their surprise, often discover a palette for wine they didn’t know they had; it’s a real thrill!  While there are literally countless tasting themes you can choose from and/or dream up, I have 4 favorites that have been successful for fall parties. 

Red Wine Varietal Tasting

My favorite fall theme is one based on grape type or variatal.  The common misperception is that all reds are heavy and full of tannins like a cabernet sauvignon; this is where the fun begins.  With any wine tasting, the standard is to start tasting with the lightest and move to heaviest.  I typically start with a Beaujolais, followed by Pinot Noir, Zinfandel and/or Syrah, Merlot & Cabernet Sauvignon and include several white wines for those that just don’t drink red.  I consider Sauvignon Blanc (New Zealand are my favorite-crisp, with loads of tropical fruit) and Chardonnay my go tos.

Pink Ribbon Wine Tasting

October is National Breast Cancer month and an excellent time to host a pink only tasting!  With pink tasting, I focus on show casing some of the amazing rose wines  and Blanc de Noir (white from red) sparkling wines and champagnes on the market.  When choosing the rose wines I typically choose wines from France as they have some of the best tasting a varied rose wines on the market.

Serious Tasting for Wineauxs

If you are like me, I have a bunch of friends that are big into wine.  When catering to a wine enthusiast bunch, I pick a country of origin, say France or Italy, and line up a tasting based on different regions.  For instance, a red from Bordeaux isn’t the same as a red from Burgundy.  Bordeaux reds are made using predominantly cabernet grapes making them hearty (and delicious) while Burgundy red are typically made using pinot noir grape and are lighter. 

Champagne Tasting

Champagne tastings are my favorite to incorporate into Holiday events.  With so many great champagnes and sparkling wines to choose from, the only challenge is narrowing down what to serve.  I generally choose bubbly from different countries to really show case the differences in style.  I start with a Cava (from Spain or Greece as a rule), move to an Italian Prosseco, followed by a Napa Sparkling wine and end with legendary champagne like Veuve Clicquot. 

Once I have chosen my tasting theme, and my menu, it’s time to think logistics.  I love my parties to be about mingling, so I set up two stations; a wine station in the breakfast room and a food station in the dining room.  This keeps everyone moving about nicely rather that in the kitchen all night.   In front of each wine, I use a Placetile to indicate the corresponding wine (my favorite is the oh-so-elegant Fleur di Lis).  Likewise, I use Placetiles as buffet labels to label each food and suggest what wine/s each pairs well with.  Cheese is always a big part of my spread, so the Placetile cheesetiles alleviate the guessing game and allow me to make pairing recommendations.  The tiles work like a charm and I look like the hostess with the mostess!   Lastly, I like to make a tasting notes sheet that lists the wine/champagne you are serving with space for your guests to make notes.   I print four to a page and cut down to keep it small and manageable. 

The most important part of any wine or champagne tasting party is to have fun and make the experience enjoyable for your guests.  Armed with these tips I believe anyone can have a smashingly successful tasting party!

What more info on hosting a fabulous wine tasting?  Feel free to email Angela at

 Angela W. Cox
Chief Executive Wineaux, Sommelier
The Wineaux Shop
 162 Main Street
Annapolis, MD 21401
410 990-1515

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Wednesday, August 11, 2010

5 Blue Crabtastic Recipes

Guest post by Molly White

Growing up in Maryland means growing up eating blue crabs, steamed, fried, baked, broiled, deviled, and 5 trillion other ways.  30 years later I still have vivid memories of sitting at my father's side while he picked hot steamed crabs, just waiting for him to let me have a bite.  And now as the mother of two small children, I'm the one picking the crabs while they sit by my side, anxiously awaiting the sweet, delicate meat to be plucked from the crab and given to them.  Over the years I've been served a crab and a multitude of ways.  Below are my top 5 favorite.

Photo By Tammi Scott-Lynch

The steamed crab is the most casual and conversational way to eat a blue crab.  Buy them already steamed by the dozen, or steam them up yourself.  It's very simple and only requires 5 ingredients:

Old Bay

Those last two ingredients are the secret to making the best steamed crabs in the world.  Fill a big pot about 2 inches deep with water, add in a can or two of beer and about a quarter cup of vinegar, place the steam basket in the pot, cover and bring water to a boil.   Layer the crabs and Old Bay in the pot and steam until the crabs are reddish orange, about 20 to 30 minutes.  Remove from steamer and enjoy the sweet, delicious meat.  Of course you'll have to pick them yourself :)
For a more refined crab experience, there are a multitude of ways to enjoy blue crab meat.  The following are my five favorite ways to enjoy this Mid Atlantic specialty.


We buy jumbo lump crabmeat from the grocery store or use leftover steamed crabs to enjoy this at home.  And we use the simple recipe on the side of the Old Bay container.

2 slices dried bread, crusts removed
1 tablespoon mayonnaise
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
1 tablespoon McCormick® Parsley Flakes
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 teaspoon OLD BAY® Seasoning
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 egg, beaten
1 pound lump crabmeat

In a large bowl, break bread into small pieces. Moisten with milk.

Add mayo, Worcestershire sauce, parsley, baking powder, OLD BAY, salt, egg and crabmeat. Mix lightly and shape into patties. If time permits, refrigerate patties 30 minutes to help keep them together when cooking.

Broil or fry until golden-brown on both sides.

The deep fried goodness that is the crab fluff was not introduced to me until earlier this year.  It is a Baltimore specialty and Ocean Pride Restaurant in Timonium makes a particularly tasty one. It is a crab cake that is battered and then fried.  While it may not be the healthiest of options, it is one of the most flavorful.

1 cup self-rising flour
1 tbsp. Old Bay seasoning
1 tbsp. parsley flakes

recipe on can OF Old Bay Crab Seasoning*

Whip eggs with fork or spoon. Add flour, Old Bay and parsley. Add enough milk to make consistency of pancake batter, but not too thin; mix well.

Dip crab cake into batter using 2 forks. Place dipped crab cake into hot oil and fry until golden brown. Drain on absorbent paper.
*Make crab cakes as desired then dip into batter.

The soft shell crab is a unique delicacy in that you eat not only the meat but the entire crab save for it's eyes and lungs, which you have your fishmonger clean in advance.  This can come as surprise to some people when ordered; I've witnessed a few shocked restaurant patrons try to figure out how to eat one.

I like to use this recipe from Cooking Light

Here is a basic recipe for cooking soft-shell crabs. You can vary it by adding cayenne pepper, garlic powder, or other seasonings to the flour.

4 servings (serving size: 1 crab)
4  (3 1/2-ounce) soft-shell crabs, cleaned
1/2  teaspoon  salt
1/4  teaspoon  freshly ground black pepper
1/4  cup  all-purpose flour

1  tablespoon  butter

Sprinkle each crab with salt and pepper. Place flour in a shallow bowl. Dredge each crab in flour, turning to coat; shake off excess flour.
Melt butter in a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add crabs to pan, top sides down; cook 3 minutes. Turn crabs over; cook an additional 2 minutes.

To serve I added a corn relish.
2 tbspns olive oil
2 ears of corn off of the cob
1/4 cup fresh basil shredded
salt and pepper to taste

Heat olive oil in a pan over medium heat, add corn and saute until tender, about 6 minutes, add basil salt and pepper to taster, drizzle over crabs.

This is a great light way to enjoy crabs and works wonderfully for a luncheon or other gathering.
1lb jumbo lump crab
1/4 cup mayo
2 stalks of celery, diced
dash of Old Bay
salt and pepper

Place crab meat in bowl and add celery, gently fold in the mayo so as not to break up lumps of crab meat, add old bay, salt and pepper to taste.  Serve alongside freshly sliced tomatoes, ears of corn or inside an avocado 1/2.

Each one of these recipes is full of flavor and highlights what makes the crab such a tasty treat; they are sweet and rich and tender.  So perfectly delicate that nothing can compare.  Try serving up a few of these at one gathering and see which your guests prefer.  Of course, use your crab MessageTile to tell your guests what's on the menu ;)

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Garden Luncheon

  I love to entertain, but that was the farthest thing from my mind one June morning as I stepped into my North Carolina garden nestled in the Smoky Mountains. I was enthusiastically greeted by the magnificent perfume of lavender, roses, and thyme.  My daylilies had just started blooming, peonies, heavy-headed, nodded hello, a few iris were still showing off, and a variety of perennials dotted the garden with glorious color. But it was my roses and herbs that awakened all of my senses that morning, and I knew I had to share their beauty.
      With my garden as my inspiration, I planned an impromptu luncheon for a few of my closest girlfriends. I chose an herb themed menu that I was sure all would enjoy.  Setting the table was easy.  Since we would be dining al fresco, I chose an elegant neutral palette of ivory and white, letting my garden steal the show.  I chose a crisp cotton lace tablecloth adorned with lime green napkins tied with a pretty ribbon and tucked in a fragrant sprig of lavender. My Beaded PlaceTiles® with a bud-vase were perfect for holding a tiny bouquet of lavender, thyme, cilantro, and roses that I would bundle into a tussie mussie or nosegay for a memorable favor, and the large beaded MessageTile was perfect for listing the luncheon menu.   I looked to my garden for an ambrosia of flowers to fill a teapot for a simple centerpiece. Using heirloom china and silver gave the table a wonderful genteel charm.
      The intimate lunch lasted well into the afternoon with lively conversation and much laughter.  As we said our goodbyes the ladies thanked me for a delightful time spent smelling, sipping, and savoring the yield from my garden.  As I turned to walk back inside, my lavender proudly stood at attention as if to say, “You’re Welcome”.

Minted Tea
      4 cups boiling water
      4 regular tea bags
      1 ½ cups sugar
      1 6 oz can frozen orange juice concentrate, thawed and undiluted
      1 6 oz can frozen lemonade concentrate, thawed and undiluted
      ¾ cup chopped fresh mint
      11 1/2 cups water
Pour 4 cups boiling water over tea bags; cover.  Allow to steep for 12 minutes Discard bags.  Combine sugar, orange juice, and lemonade in a saucepan; bring to boil, stirring constantly.  Remove from heat; add mint.  Let stand 15 minutes.  Strain mint from fruit mixture; discard mint.  Add tea and 11 1/2 cups water to fruit mixture.  May be served hot or cold.  Garnish with lemon slices and mint sprigs, if desired.

Chicken Salad with Lemon Tarragon
            1/2 cup chopped pecans 
            3/4 cup mayonnaise
            1  tablespoon  chopped fresh tarragon
            1  teaspoon  grated lemon rind
            1  tablespoon  fresh lemon juice
            1  teaspoon  salt
            1/2  teaspoon  freshly ground pepper
            3  cups  chopped cooked chicken
            2  celery stalks, finely chopped
           1/2  small sweet onion, finely chopped
            2  cups  seedless red grapes, cut in half (optional)
           Garnish: halved lemon slices
    Arrange pecans in a single layer on a baking sheet. Bake at 350° for 5 to 7 minutes or until lightly toasted. Cool pecans on a wire rack 15 minutes or until completely cooled.  Whisk together mayonnaise and next 5 ingredients in a large bowl; stir in pecans, chicken, celery, and onion just until blended. Stir in grape halves, if desired. Garnish, if desired.
    Southern Living, JUNE 2007  

    Shrimp and Pasta Salad
          12 ounces uncooked small pasta shells
          2 lb. peeled cooked shrimp
          6 green onions, thinly sliced
          ½ cup chopped fresh basil
          1 ½ tsp. dried crushed red pepper
          1 T. grated lemon rind
          Fresh Citrus Salad Dressing

    Prepare pasta according to package directions. Toss pasta with remaining ingredients. Serve immediately, or cover and chill up to 2 days.
    Fresh Citrus Salad Dressing: Whisk together 1/2 cup light olive oil, 3 Tbsp. Greek seasoning, 3 Tbsp. fresh lemon juice, and 3 Tbsp. mayonnaise.
    Southern Living, MARCH 2007  

    Baby Greens with Raspberry Vinaigrette
          1 pound baby greens
          1 peach, skin removed and sliced
           ½ cup chopped pecans toasted
          1 T. thyme leaves
          Raspberry Vinaigrette

    Combine first 4 ingredients in a large bowl; toss gently.  Pour Raspberry Vinaigrette over greens mixture just before serving; toss gently.

    Raspberry Vinaigrette
          ½ cup vegetable oil
          ¼ cup raspberry vinegar
          1 T. honey
          ½ tsp. grated orange rind
          ¼ tsp. salt
          1/8 tsp. pepper

    Country Scones with Lemon Thyme
          1 T. freshly grated lemon peel
          1 tsp. chopped lemon thyme leaves
          2 ½ cups flour
          1 T. baking powder
          ½ tsp. salt
          ½ cup unsalted butter, chilled
          ¼ cup sugar
          2/3 cup milk

    Combine the flour, baking powder and salt in a bowl and mix well.  Cut in the butter with a pastry blender until crumbly.  Stir in the sugar, lemon peel, and lemon thyme.  Add the milk, stirring until a soft dough forms.  Shape into a ball.  Knead the dough 10 to 12 times on a lightly floured surface.  Divide the dough into 2 portions.  Knead each half lightly into a ball.  Roll into a 6-inch circle.  Cut each circle into 6-8 wedges.  Arrange the wedges slightly apart for crisp sides or touching fro soft sides on an ungreased baking sheet.  Bake at 425 degrees for 12minutes or until medium brown.  Remove to a wire rack to cool.  Serve with your choice of jams.

    Strawberries with Balsamic and Basil
          2 lb. strawberries (about 4 cups) cleaned and halved
          1 T. sugar
          2 tsp. balsamic vinegar
          8-10 medium fresh basil leaves

    In a large bowl toss berries with sugar and vinegar.  Let sit at room temperature until strawberries have released their juices, about 30 minutes.  Just before serving, stack the basil leaves on a cutting board and toll them vertically into a loose cigar shape.  Using a sharp knife, thinly slice across the roll to make a chiffonade of basil.  Serve in individual pretty serving dishes.

    Lemon Basil Snaps
          2 cups flour
          ½ tsp. baking soda
          ¼ tsp. salt
          1/3 cup chopped pistachio nuts
          ¾ cup butter or margarine, at room temperature
          ¾ cup sugar
          1 egg
          1 T. grated lemon rind
          1 T. fresh lemon juice
          1/3 cup chopped fresh lemon basil or sweet basil

    In a bowl cream the butter and sugar until light and fluffy.  Beat in the egg, mixing until combined.  Add the lemon rind, lemon juice, and basil leaves.  Combine the flour, baking soda, salt, and nuts in a small bowl.  Gradually add to the butter mixture, beating until blended.  Cover and chill 1 hour.  Roll the dough into 1 inch balls.  Place 2 inches apart on ungreased baking sheet.  Bake 10-12 minutes or until golden.

    Tuesday, June 29, 2010


    In celebration of our favorite Shakesperian quotes capturing the spirit of a recent table design competition at the American Visionary Arts Museum in Baltimore, I asked my team how we could create an entire table using as many recyclable, reusable and “green” items and still make it inspiring and beautiful. It’s a totally over-the-top table – and as event designers we love the opportunity to get over-the-top creative --  but even just one smart idea could bring an eco-friendly element to a wedding or private dinner party. Pretty with a purpose, as I like to say.

    The team’s top pick? PlaceTile Designs' reusable menu cards and place cards. We handwrote quotes from Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night to inspire the dinner guests while they dined amongst the canopied bowers (a salvaged umbrella frame) and banks of violets (reused from a massive floral arrangement for a previous event) mentioned throughout the play.

    I wanted the table to look “designed” but special and intimate at the same time so the guests who sat down could really feel like they were part of the experience. Displaying the quotes on Place Tile’s menu tiles not only tied the drama of the play together with the drama of the table, but they generated lively conversation amongst the diners.

    I would love to use these for a wedding and would choose sentiments that meant something special to the bride and groom or possibly an array of quotes about love, marriage, friendship and a rich future full of happiness. I want the guests who raise their glasses to toast the newlyweds to feel inspired, joyful and part of the wedding celebration.

    What better way to inspire guests than with a thought-provoking, romantic quote? What better catalyst to inspire eco-responsibility than chic, reusable elements that can generate ongoing inspiration for years to come? I love the combination of beauty, versatility, drama and impact that these smart menu cards allow. Again, pretty with a purpose.

    Jennifer Grove
    Sky Blue Events

    Jennifer Grove, President of Sky Blue Events, is a highly regarded wedding and event planner known for her exceptional organizational skills and attention to detail as well as her classic uptown personal style and lifestyle expertise.

    Sky Blue Events offers comprehensive planning services for producing delightful dinner parties and exceptional weddings as well as exquisite galas and smart corporate affairs. We invite you to learn more on the Sky Blue Events web site or blog  and to contact them for your next special event.

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