Thursday, November 26, 2015

A Southern Thanksgiving with Designer Mary Evelyn McKee

Thanksgiving at the home of Birmingham designer Mary Evelyn McKee is all about family. She grew up in a large family where she learned how to host a lot of people with ease. Mary Evelyn’s warmth and charm are infectious and I imagine that her Thanksgiving must be a real treat for everyone lucky enough to be at her table. In addition to her interior design business, she is also playing a very active role in raising the awareness of suicide prevention in Alabama. 
This thanksgiving I am pleased to share this very busy designer and activist tips and tricks for entertaining.

A buffet bar is set up in the dining room for guests to serve themselves. 

Tell me about the occasion and meal you made.
I serve Thanksgiving cocktails, as the season changes to cooler temps, Bourbon is the liquor of choice. The "Old Fashioned "is a perennial Southern favorite especially when mixed with Pappy Van Winkle Kentucky bourbon with a very festive garnish of orange and cherry.
Serve it in the perfect double old fashioned glass by William Yeoward, or a sterling tumbler will also do. Team it with the best cheese wafer this side of the Mississippi, Out Of Thyme by Ashley Smith, and you have the start of a great cocktail party, any time of year.

Designer Mary Evelyn McKee

What influences your menu choices when you entertain?
I was given Perla Meyers' The Seasonal Kitchen as a newlywed, she was so ahead of her time and it is still my go to cookbook. I am also a fan of Frank Stitts food and cookbooks. They are always an inspiration. I always make his wonderful Fig recipe in August, its a family favorite.

Who or what has most inspired your entertaining style?
My family has always influenced my entertaining style. They taught me that moments to be savored over a good meal are few and far between. My mother always advised me not to overdo it when I entertain because " No one likes an exhausted hostess".

McKee's Thanksgiving drink of choice, an Old Fashion.

Has anyone been a strong influence in teaching you the l'art de recevoir?Breaking bread is a celebration, good fellowship and good conversation are always my goal when we entertain. That is the way it was at our table growing up in a large family. It must have appealed to my husband as David asked me to marry him at Thanksgiving!

Mary Evelyn favorite cheese wafers.

Do you have a favorite china or tabletop item that you collect?
My favorite China is still Herend Fruits and Flowers , the design is around the edge of the plate so it is still visible when the food is served. It also looks great with my Michael Devine Thomas pattern Limoges.

Happy Thanksgiving to one and all!

Monday, November 23, 2015

Perfect Linens: The Secret is in the Sizzle

The ideal: perfectly crisp and smooth linens.

There is nothing like beautifully pressed linens. The cool immaculate crispness and the implied sense of order of perfectly pressed linens seems like a noble goal in an ever more chaotic world. I have discovered many times over, that the apparently simple task of ironing napkins is clearly more complex than first thought. I decided to find out what it takes to make that crisp perfection happen by checking in with the local linen maven Franca Fusco of Boxwood Linen. I am happy to share  the 1-2-3's of what I learned from my behind the scenes lesson just in time for all the holiday napkins and table clothes that are waiting to be pressed. 

Franca behind the counter of her local Chatham NY shop.

The first step is to start with immaculate spot free linens that have been aired dried. She advises never using the dryer because it breaks the fibers and leaves linen limp and lifeless. Pretreating stains is a must and soaking them is also highly recommended to help lift out the spots and leave the pieces pristine. 

Her go to products that she uses and always recommends for washing Le Blanc Linen Wash, Wine Away and Savon de Marseille.

The second step is to make sure the iron is at its highest setting and preheated, it should sizzle, when it comes in contact with the item. A spray bottle is a necessity to thoroughly dampen the pieces and relax the fibers. Smooth and flatten as you iron. 

A thoroughly moistened towel presses easily with nay a wrinkle or crease. 

Lastly, once the piece is done set it aside and and let it completely dry flat and then fold. For whites and dark colors she recommends using a press cloth to prevent spotting or sheen. 

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Heather Chadduck the Gracious Hostess

Southern hospitality is thriving in Heather Chadduck's home right down to the last pineapple embroidered napkin. The designer stylist of Birmingham, Alabama knows how to make her guests feel at home which is why I suspect her invitations are so coveted. The quirky details, like the number backed chairs and beads on the table, will provide instant topics of conversation for even tongue tied guests. Read on to get the inside scoop on how she creates the perfect evening for herself and her guests. Enjoy!

The perfect setting for a swell evening, Heather Chadduck's dining room.

Tell me about the occasion and meal you made.
I love a dinner party!  I love to set the table, arrange the centerpiece, plan the meal, all of it! This one was to celebrate an annual girls trip to Birmingham. There’s a group of us who have been friends since grade school.  I like to invite my new friends, too. It’s nice to mix the old and new friends, just like old and new china, it brings character to the table. My husband and I prepared a rustic Italian meatball dinner with a simple salad and dessert.

What influences your menu choices when you entertain?
It’s fun to migrate during the evening.  For example, we may start with a charcuterie and cheese board by the outdoor fire, move inside for dinner and retire to the living room for coffee and freshly baked dessert.

Heather Chadduck Interior Decorator, Textile Designer and Magazine Stylist

Has anyone been a strong influence in teaching you the l'art de recevoir? 
My mother has always told me that being prepared for an event is the best way to put your guests at ease. She will often set the table days in advance, I’m very much like her in that regard.

Who or what has most inspired your entertaining style?
Both of my parents are gracious entertainers and cooks. I grew up with a lot of dinner parties in our home, and was always enlisted to help set the table. Flowers are a must, not just on the table but throughout the house. I usually buy a few fresh blooms to make smaller bouquets, and clip branches and leaves from the yard for a bigger impact.

These large fronds are called rice paper plants.  They are a Southern 
variety that last for weeks when kept in water. 

Do you have a favorite china or tabletop item that you collect?
I collect LOTS of china! My Classic white ironstone collection has over 400 pieces displayed in the original butler’s pantry in our kitchen. My Father gives me a piece for each Birthday and Christmas.  We use it for everyday meals. There are several more sets of china stashed away that we have either inherited or couldn’t resist at a flea market.  For more formal settings, like this one, I like lots of layers. Placemats, chargers and stacks of white china rimmed with platinum bands. My favorite topper is this Hermés Chaine D’Anchre in Gray-Platinum. I buy silver plated goblets whenever I see them. I love them mixed with the crystal  glasses. (Waterford Ballyshannon)

Monday, November 16, 2015

A Holiday Treat

Just in time for holiday shopping we are opening the store for a limited time. From December 10 - 24 my shop in Kinderhook will be decked out for the holiday season with an enticing range of gifts, edible treats and vintage finds. If you find yourself in the Hudson Valley for the festive season, be sure to stop by for some fun holiday shopping. Daily from 10-6. For more details please visit my website

Thursday, November 12, 2015

The Fantastic World of Ware M. Porter

The variety of colors and patterns of the tables speaks to Wares 
innate ability to use color and pattern.

Interior designer Ware M. Porter is a host that knows how to throw a great party. His joie de vivre and all out approach to entertaining has put him on track to becoming a legendary host. Who else but Ware would host a holiday party and have live models body painted silver and white posing on columns? That’s just the start of the party stories Ware has to tell. 
His stylish interiors are equally brilliant thanks to his expert use of color and passion for traditional design. He creates memorable rooms for clients with confident chic style. He also has one of the best design stores around, Ware and Co., in his home town and base of Birmingham, Alabama. Behind the signature clear blue front door is an Aladdin's cave of beautiful home furnishings and accessories. 
I was thrilled that my first dinnerware trunk show was held there. Todays post is a lunch that Ware held for clients in the store. Enjoy!
Designer and shopkeeper Ware M. Porter 

Tell me about the occasion and meal you made.

Given I am in between homes, and there is a paint crew in my dining room preparing for lacquer, I am hosting a holiday luncheon for a few friends and clients in my office. I have hosted parties here and it’s always a smash. It’s a jewel box of a space, if I may say so myself, and a crowd pleaser.  French café music and southern food is served with endless Champagne. 

The style is in the mix.

What influences your menu choices when you entertain?

What is in season, occasion and number of guests factor what is on the menu. The chill in the air calls for a fireside buffet of Chicken and Morel Pie with steamed asparagus. 

Who or what has most inspired your entertaining style?

My mother. Our home has always had an open door policy for friends and family. There was always more than enough of everything for everyone. Roaring fires, cocktails and people buzzing about was the norm. She is such a gracious Host...I’d like to think that I am too.

Mixing patterns and textures adds depth and interest to the place settings.

Do you have a favorite china or tabletop item that you collect?

Silver and more silver, it’s part of my southern roots. My father started giving me silver in high school and I haven’t stopped collecting since. I adore my Verdura silver shells. They are migratory objects you may find on my coffee table or in my dining room. They are so naturally beautiful.

Monday, November 9, 2015

Carrot Apple Soup

Fall is the start of soup season in our house. There really isn’t anything as comforting as a warm bowl of soup on a chilly day. I made this delicious soup with heirloom carrots that I grew in the garden, but regular carrots will work as long as they are flavorful.  The apple compliments the carrots with its sweetness and adds to the fragrance of the soup. I served mine with toasted slivered almonds for added texture which were dusted with paprika. Bon Appetit.

The Carrot Apple Soup served in a Charlotte soup plate paired with the Thomas dinner plate, from my collection by Marie Daage, makes a colorful start for a fall dinner.

Carrot Apple Soup
2 tablespoons butter
1 medium onion peeled and chopped
1 pound heirloom carrots in a range of colors, peeled and finely sliced
1 medium apple peeled, cored and diced
4 cups of chicken stock
Salt and white pepper to taste

In a large saucepan melt the butter over medium heat. Add onions and carrots and cook until soft but not brown. About 5-7 minutes. Add the diced apple and continue to cook another 3 minutes or until the apple is softened. Pour in the stock and bring to a boil. Salt and pepper to taste. Reduce heat and simmer 20 minutes over low heat.
Remove from heat and let cool. Puree the mixture in a blender until smooth. Reheat and serve.
Serves 6. 

Thursday, November 5, 2015

Dinner in the Bagatelle

This week I am featuring the last hurrah the dinner we recently hosted in our garden. A couple of days of ideal warm autumn weather was all it took to entice us to host the intimate dinner for four in the bagatelle. When setting a table I believe its important that, like good party guests around the table, everything on the table should speak to each other. For this table I wanted a rich autumnal organic feel to mimic the earthy nature of the season. The bleu canard of the velvet cloth set the stage for the rest of the table decor, which the blue silver tones of the Blue Hubbard squash complimented. I added an additional layer of silver grey green with the dried verbena branches from the garden. A mix of colors and patterns from my dinnerware collection added a vibrant note to the colors and the vintage glasses with an optical pattern, looks like they were made to go with my Thomas dinnerware. 
Next Thrusday, I will be featuring the entertaining secrets of the fantastic Birmingham, Alabama based designer Ware M Porter

The bagatelle in the back of the garden has been the setting for some fun dinners. At night its lite by candle light which helps to make every dinner seem like an occasion. 

The walls are still tented in my Thomas pearl fabric from a shoot we did for the book. The chandelier was found on line and came in a kit. Happily the other half of "us" had the patience to put it together, especially since it was shipped missing a number of crystals. That was a fun project indeed.

This is one of a pair of antique pine cone metal candlesticks that I found at a house auction.

My bountiful crop of heirloom carrots this year has yielded a number of tasty treats, but the carrot apple soup with paprika toasted almonds is the best one so far. Check back Monday for the recipe.