Friday, August 20

Dan's Papers Story on outdoor entertaining and weather...

August 20, 2010
by Tamara Matthews-Stephenson
Don't you just love August? It's the month when we attempt to cram all of our outdoor activities into a few short weeks. Summer moves along at a normal pace but once August hits, we begin to feel the nagging reminder that shortly we will be back to the hustle and bustle of autumn when the daylight starts to dim just after dinner. So let's revel in the celebratory month with barbecues, beach picnics, outdoor dinners and backyard fun. There is no other time of the year where we appreciate our outdoor spaces more than these last days of summer. Many pergolas, patios, decks, gardens and trellises have been constructed over history to help us embark upon that wonderful experience of dining alfresco under the twinkling stars. The food just seems to taste different as you sip your wine under the glow of lanterns. But be warned that outdoor dining can be a little unpredictable, so one must remain flexible when planning an outdoor event. Thankfully there are many sources available for cushions, waterproof furniture and basically any material that helps you create an indoor feeling outdoors. I like to take my interior design style from inside my home to the outdoors for these special occasions by setting a unique table utilizing accessories, mixing various porcelain and pottery and adding colored and textured linens. When planning a dinner in my backyard, I almost always choose a small nook to position my dinner table, either under the shady branches of trees or a pergola. This cocoon of sorts creates a natural welcome and gives you a chance to hang lights or lanterns to create special lighting to surround your guests. Once my table is set, I create a self-serve bar for my guests so they feel comfortable to refill their drinks at their leisure. I take an interesting table from inside the house and set it up with wine, a signature drink in a large jar with ladle, an ice bucket and glasses. At a recent family party, we brought a bamboo bar cart on casters from inside to provide pitchers of lemonade and iced tea. The bar area creates a space similar to a kitchen island, it acts as a focal point for your guests, a place to cozy up and chat. I use vintage tablecloths with unusual throws as runners, but if I need something special for more than one or two tables, I head over to Bermuda Party Rental in East Hampton because they have a great array of choices for larger gatherings. An outdoor party is a time to inject a little bit of creativity and whimsy, so don't be afraid to try a daring look. For our last year's Fourth of July Party we turned a surfboard horizontally and served Mojitos and steamed clams in beach pails on top. Of course interesting and eclectic music is important, but not too loud to allow for conversation. Now that you have all the details in place, keep your fingers crossed that the weather cooperates, the bugs stay away, and the neighbors don't suddenly decide to blast their music. Entertaining outdoors can be a little unpredictable, it's wise to have an alternate plan in mind. You may have to take the party indoors if a sudden storm blows. As we have all experienced, weather can change on a dime out here on Long Island. I usually take a couple of minutes to think about where I will seat everyone and how we will work out the logistics in case of bad weather. Obviously tenting an area outside will give you more confidence, but for smaller gatherings one must improvise. Staying relaxed through potential disasters may help create a memorable event - nothing puts guests more at ease than a relaxed host. A recent example of how weather can change your plans is a dinner party I planned a few weeks ago. I hosted an outdoor sit down dinner for 20 guests. The tables were set with pretty Tiffany and tan-colored cloths, the sangria was made, the pool sparkling and it was a beautiful sunny afternoon. I had just sat down with a few guests to sample the antipasto plate, when we heard the distant roar of thunder. We stammered for a minute and within seconds the sky overhead turned black, lightning crashed nearby and we ran for cover. As we all safely made our way inside with plates, flowers and food platters, we began to hear the ripping of trees outside. The house was swaying, lightning hit, we lost electricity and two trees came crashing down in our front yard. Later we learned a tornado had ripped through our section of the Springs in East Hampton leaving much of the neighborhood in disarray. However, at this point we were simply trying to recover. The electricity was out, but since it was still daylight we set the dining table inside. Thankfully the food was all prepared and ready to be served, so we enjoyed our dinner. I knew that once the party ended I would have some issues to contend with, but while the party continued we moved along with our plans. By the end of the evening, with the candles sparkling, we felt as if we were campers telling ghost stories. My guests laughed that we all took the chaos in stride and it was a fun and memorable night. The next day as we headed down Three Mile Harbor Road, we were in shock at all that had occurred during our dinner. My hope for you as you plan your next outdoor event is that you do not have a tornado to contend with, however, if weather changes your plans attempt to take it in stride. After all, it is a party and we only have a few short weeks left. Tamara is an interior designer, freelance writer and author of Nest by Tamara blog at

Thursday, August 12

Make homemade chocolate for your guests - simple & delicious!

As the end of August nears folks, here are more thoughts
on entertaining your weekend guests this month.
See below a stylish friend's tips,
Hope you can stop back next week for outdoor entertaining ideas to get the most out of your summer parties...
My blogger friend Coryanne (or Mrs. Bliss)
of the fun and witty blog,
wrote a post about hosting weekend guests.
"I always dress the bedside tables with handmade chocolates and a midnight tipple so that my guests go off to dream land pampered and merry; it is the sort of thing you would never do for yourself yet everyone loves".

check out Coryanne's recipe below -

Treats keep them sweet – I make a batch of chocolates a few days before and keep them in the fridge. On the morning of their arrival, I place a few in a nice jar and leave it on the bedside table next to a single serving bottle of a nice tipple.

Chocolate making is simple and takes less time than you may think. Here is the basic recipe to follow, use imagination and experiment before you guest arrive to ensure you have mastered your own delightful chocolate assortments.

1 bar of milk melting chocolate, 200g will make 8 molded chocolates.

1 tablespoon of clear honey (used to bind the mixture)

1 tablespoon of unsalted butter (used to clarify & soften the mixture)

1 silicone chocolate mold

Break chocolate into small pieces (I use a rolling pin) place in glass mixing bowl over a saucepan of boiling water. Once it begins to melt, stir in the butter and honey. Stir until completely melted to avoid burning the chocolate. Once melted, use a spoon to ladle the mixture into the molds. Add dried fruit, finely chopped nuts are anything your heart desires to the mold and layer with chocolate to seal them in. Once the moulds are done, pop in the fridge, let sit for 2 hours and then remove them from their trays. Leave in the fridge until you are ready to serve.

"enjoying your guests, building those friendships, and taking pride in your efforts at creating a memorable stay".

Thank you Coryanne -

that chocolate sounds delicious!

Saturday, August 7

taking weekend guests on a beach picnic

August's look 
at weekend entertaining, Part II:
Take weekend guests to the beach for a sunset dinner & picnic.  
~Quick and easy ways to start your weekend~

throw clams on a grill then take off just when they open

"pack up dinner and take it to the beach at the end of a hot summer day.  This is a refreshing way to greet your guests after they've most likely sat in summer traffic to get to you.  It's relatively easy and way to kick off a weekend while hosting guests".  

Arrive at the beach in time to miss the crowds...
We packed up tin plates and linens, filled the cooler with salads and cool drinks and soon after our guests arrived, we headed to the beach.   This particular Friday evening in August I made two salads; a take on Ina's Chinese Chicken and a Cold Sesame Noodle salad.  We brought logs for a fire and even a small grill.  We roasted hotdogs and clams and topped off dinner with cupcakes and homemade smores.  
I love Ina, and although I am yet to meet her I see her milling around East Hampton often.  We miss her great shop, Barefoot Contessa, as it was a convenient place years back to pick up items on the way to the beach or if hosting a gathering.  Now we have her wonderful cookbooks and boxed treats to contend with.  See below Ina's Chinese Chicken Salad adapted from her cookbook, "Barefoot Contessa Parties".  This is one of my favorite summer cookbooks as there are so many easy to make recipes.  However, I tweaked it a bit for this night, adding chopped romaine lettuce, chopped the chicken and other vegetables into bite sized pieces and omitted the red peppers to make a salad my kids will eat.  I also topped it with crunchy chinese noodles for a bit more crunch.  I did make the dressing and it is delicious, however, when I am pressed for time I cheat and buy bottled dressing - my favorite is Annie's Shitake Teriyaki - honestly it is good when in a pinch!
 Chinese Chicken Salad recipe:
4 split chicken breasts (bone-in, skin-on) Olive oil 
Kosher salt Freshly ground black pepper 1/2 pound snow peas (or asparagus, sliced into thirds) 1 red bell pepper, thinly sliced 2 scallions, sliced diagonally 1 tablespoon sesame seeds, toasted  1/2 cup vegetable oil
1/4 cup rice wine vinegar (or apple cider vinegar) 3 tablespoons soy sauce 1 1/2 tablespoons dark sesame oil 1/2 tablespoon honey 1 clove garlic, minced 1/2 teaspoon peeled, grated fresh ginger 1/2 tablespoon sesame seeds, toasted Up to 1/4 cup smooth peanut butter 2 teaspoons kosher salt 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. 2. Place the chicken on a sheet pan. Rub the skin with olive oil, and sprinkle liberally with salt and pepper. Roast for 35 to 40 minutes, until the chicken is just cooked. Let cool. Remove the meat from the bones, discard the skin, and shred the chicken in large bite-sized pieces.     3. Combine the chicken, snow peas and peppers in a large bowl.  4. Whisk the dressing ingredients, and pour over the chicken and vegetables. Add the scallions and sesame seeds, and season to taste. Serve cold or at room temperature

This summer I stocked up on dozens of these fun colored 
Chinese take-out containers and serve various salads in them.  I also use my lacquered bento boxes tied with string, which stack nicely in my cooler.  
keep it simple but delicious:
we grilled clams and hotdogs on the grill
& then there's time for Smores.

Sesame Noodle recipe
This is a super simple asian noodle salad which can be made hours or even a day in advance - I like to make it,  let marinate, taste again later and possibly add a bit more sauce before serving to keep it moist
2 lbs. cooked udon noodles 
2 chopped scallions 
1TBS sesame seeds 
1 TBS peanut butter 
1 TBS tahini, 
soy sauce to taste
2 TBS peanut oil 
1/4 C olive oil 
splash of japanese sake  

The sun is setting and time to throw a line and
just for fun.  

 this one was a tad burnt
roasting marshmallows and making smores 
tops our evening!

Gabby's homemade seaside cupcakes packed in a bento box!

Sunday, August 1

Tweaking a guest bedroom this August on Nest by Tamara

Let's stylize our guest bedroom
 to prepare for guests this summer...
Summertime at the beach is a busy time of year with
lots of beauty to take in, activities to enjoy.
One of the season's added fun is inviting weekend guests.
But please be careful, and don't overdo the hospitality and guest schedule in order to enjoy and relish in the memories you create with your family and friends.

My friend and fabulous blogger, Lisa Porter of The Lisa Porter Collection in Lexington, Kentucky offers helpful hints on her wonderful blog about hosting guests. Lisa recommends your home's entrance to be both warm and inviting, signaling to your guests they are welcome from the moment they arrive.
I agree wholeheartedly! love love love this nautical inspired photograph from
The Lisa Porter Collection
click on below link to read Lisa's hospitality post
where she details how to be host weekend guests in a relaxing and enjoyable manner.
for many of us, travel may be prime time to read your favorite book.  You may want to place your favorite "reads" in close proximity to your guest I mention in my Dan's Papers magazine story, stock up on produce from your local farmer's market to whip up quick and easy meals, maybe even splurge on ready-to-eat items to make it easy.   textural layering
decorate a guest bedroom luxuriously, but clutter free as to allow your guests room to unpack their belongings and move around in the space. 
I like to add lots of pretty pillows and accessories. To prepare for summer I made some small changes to my guest bedroom...
Last year I showcased this beautiful farm in Lexington, Kentucky on Nest. It inspired me because I was working on a story about equestrian themes in the home, and how the lifestlye influences interior design. I fell in love with this home (a working horse farm owned and loved by the famous fashion duo, Bagley & Mischka). Of course it is perfectly edited and done with tasteful restraint. Photographs below are from last summer's Elle Decor magazine spread on the house and property. I fell in love with this beautiful black dresser 
I like the lovely black sheen, antique glass knobs and those substantial claw feet., and of course, the simple Empire shape!
As I was tweaking my guest bedroom, I used this dresser as my muse.
I recently painted the room a cheery apple green (from the tan color it was previously). I injected more color to mirror the foliage of green hedges and bright colored hydrangeas outside the window in summer with pink colored accessories to compliment the new green walls. I framed it all in sober black, clean lined furniture. I have a black faux bamboo bookcase, two whimsical painted nautical chairs, a vintage milk bottle lamp, a sport fish on the wall, an american colonial drop leaf black writing table, and a Queen sized antique tarnished brass bed.
"maybe if I painted my vintage dresser black it would seem less whimsical and show off the interesting lines and framed mirror topping the dresser to better fit in the guest bedroom". It was a dull Saturday in May, so I roped my son into helping me carry the furniture into the driveway. We taped up the mirror. My agreeable eleven year-old sanded the entire piece. Of course, I supplied him homemade lemonade. I spray painted the dresser with two coats of black semi-gloss paint. We found lucite handles at the local hardware store that fit perfectly. I lined the drawers with pretty green toile wallpaper I had left over from the guest bathroom. 
The After Shot
see above the same dresser, sanded, painted and newly adorned with lucite pulls back in the guest room ready for summer.
I topped the dresser with an oversized japanese lacquer tray, a pair of crystal lamps, a candle and bouquet of flowers from my garden
lucite pulls we found at a local hardware store
my mother's handpainted nautical chairs fit right into the space nicely
I keep notepaper and pens close at hand on the writing desk...
The story on the subject of hosting guests I wrote for Dan's Papers...
How To Be The Perfect Hamptons Hostess
By Tamara Matthews-Stephenson
I just got off the phone with a friend complaining about the parade of visitors trekking out to visit this summer. It's that bittersweet time of the year when you cannot resist filling your calendar with weekend guests with whom you will create and share summer memories. Every year I promise to pace myself with one group of guests per month, allowing some time in between to take a breath and relax. Inevitably there is a distant cousin ready to head out on the Jitney with only a few hours' notice.
In my attempt at creating fun-filled weekends, with ease, I have come up with some simple ideas to assure a comfortable visit for my guests, without intensive labor for me and my family. There is creating a warm and inviting guest bedroom, and the added job of entertaining and preparing meals while enjoying your visitors' company and avoiding becoming bogged down with work. For many years before we had children, my husband and I enjoyed staying at bed and breakfasts and small, family-owned inns during our travel vacations, relishing in the small details of welcome baskets, homemade muffins for breakfast and the little accoutrements that help make a visit feel special. I try to recreate this experience for guests in my home. I read somewhere that you should sleep in your own guest bedroom to experience the space in use, so I did that over the quiet lull of the winter. I had assumed my room was perfectly coiffed with a simple, yet pretty vase of fresh flowers from my garden. Once I spent a full evening in the room, however, I became aware of some of the drawbacks of the space, so I made small changes to better receive my guests. When preparing a guest bedroom the magic is in stocking the room to provide some independence and comfort to guests, from fine quality bedding and pillows to smaller items such as toothpaste. I now remember to fill the guest bathroom with plenty of plush towels, linens and bathroom products. In addition, I added a blowdryer, travel size alarm clock, and writing paper and pens. I also provided a comfortable corner to write a note or use a laptop computer. Although I had a few lamps in the room, as I sat on the bed I noticed it was dark in that particular area, so I added a small, bedside reading lamp. I was frankly appalled at the quality of the pillows, which were lumpy, and to top it all off, there wasn't a thick, extra blanket if it got cold at night. Although I had a random assortment of bathroom products, I decided to invest in a collection of small, more personal-sized bottles for each guest's visit. I cleaned out space in the closet, removing my coats and off-season items to allow more room and introducing extra hangers. I now leave one empty table for weekend bags. Although the antique dresser in the bedroom was charming, it was too difficult to work the handles. I decided to refinish the dresser with a quick sanding and painting, and added sparkling new Lucite handles. Just before my guests arrive, I place a pretty tray on the edge of the bed with the following items; a map of the area, a candle, chocolates, small containers of shampoo/conditioner, and a water-filled decanter for drinking. I add a quick welcome note as well. In addition, I have created a "first night" tradition for many visitors to start the weekend on a fun and easy note. After a long trip driving out on the traffic riddled I-495, we offer to kick-off our guest's visit with a picnic and bonfire at the beach. I pack up an easy to prepare dinner, either fried chicken from Brents or Citarella, or sandwiches and salads I make ahead of time. I invested in some brightly colored Chinese take-out containers for salads to add a fun twist, or sometimes I put my salads in raffia-tied bento boxes. Into the picnic basket go a few pretty linens, paper plates and utensils, chilled white wine and cool drinks for the kids, and off we go to the beach. I keep a bag on hand all summer with a battery-operated lantern, a small folding table and blanket. As we head to the beach I simply add logs for a bonfire, a lighter, and a smores kit from the super market. We have an instant party without much work. It is a great way to set the tone for a relaxed summer weekend, putting my visitors at ease. The kids can run barefoot on the beach. An added bonus to the evening is I am left without lots of dirty dinner dishes and the house stays relatively clean. We toast the arrival of our guests over the roar of the rolling surf. Because our weekends are often filled with busy family schedules driving us in various directions, I stock up on my favorite farmers markets' fresh baked goods from Round Swamp Farm in East Hampton. I keep their homemade muffins, cinnamon buns, local jam and fresh fruit on hand. This allows me a quick way to provide my guests with breakfast. I pop the muffins in the oven, brew a pot of coffee and the scrumptous smells waft through the house. It is now Saturday and I have fed my guests a fun dinner at the beach, provided them with a delicious breakfast and they appear rested from the guest room with map in hand, ready to take in the local sights of the Hamptons. Tamara is an interior designer, freelance writer & author of Nest by Tamara blog -