Monday, September 26, 2011

Help! I'm having people over!!!

We've all been there before. All of a sudden you've decided to have a dinner party, whether it's just a family get together, a birthday party or maybe your boss is coming over for the first time (do they still do that or am I thinking of old sitcoms like "Bewitched"??). Everyone can benefit from a few quick ideas that make you look like you can throw a shindig with ease, even though on the inside you're completely overwhelmed.

Okay....think Chinese take out. It's the most logical. It's easy to order, always tastes good and can be delivered. Check. Check. Check. So, the food is out of the way...what else is there to do? Make it memorable and in a flash. You don't have to be super crafty, no artistic qualities required. It just takes a few steps and you'll be a hit.

First stop, make a trip to Cost Plus for a few things. You need to buy some chopsticks. Yes, I know you can get the freebies from the restaurant, but who likes getting splinters in their mouth when they eat? It cost $3.00 for a 10 pack at Cost Plus (these have been sanded). Throw in a few beginner chopsticks if you are having kids, it's fun and you never know when an "adult" guest needs a little help.

Tiff's Tips:
While you are at Cost Plus, check out the dishware. If you don't have any Asian tabletop accessories and you'd like to invest in a few pieces, I highly recommend it. If you are like most families I know, we constantly order chinese take out, and it's great to have some bowls for soup, plus the spoons.  Also invest in a teapot. It's always nice when you are at the restaurant to have hot tea. Why shouldn't we do the same at home? Teas are available at your grocery store and it's boiling water with tea brainer. 

This koi fish tea pot from Cost Plus is great.
Pier One also has a selection of teapots and asian inspired dishes like this teapot and cups set.

This Cost Plus koi fish design is affordable and stylish

Also from Cost Plus are these bamboo designed bowls.

If you have time, visit an international food store. Most larger ones will have a surplus of inexpensive dishes and utensils. Seriously, bowls cost about $1.50, spoons are around 70 cents a piece. In addition to that, one can pick up interesting food items for appetizers, desserts, and party favors.
These spoons are 70 cents at a local international market.
So, the next thing you need to do is set the table. Flowers not needed! Take two bowls and first fill them with bubble wrap or even newspaper crumpled up. Then top them off with green moss (you can purchase this at your local Michaels or craft store). Done!

 If you've got a few orchids, that would work too. Another idea to make them look uniform is to paper small boxes with Chinese newspaper (can be picked up at international food stores) and you have a zen look. If you don't have cool bowls, use a few chinese take out boxes. Super cheap, super fun!

I also like to have chopstick holders to add interest to the table. I've collected some over the years, so I have plenty.
I recently found this puffer fish chopstick rest online at an Asian restaurant supplier's website. So fun! don't have to buy them. You can make them yourself by downloading Chinese inspired images online and print them out onto card stock. Cut and fold and place each chopstick on top.

One could take it a step further and use the same image and make name cards....or labels for tea. Set out a "tea service" so that everyone can serve themselves. (You don't need a fancy tea cart either, just pull out an end table, stool, chair....whatever you think might look charming in the corner)

Napkins are next. Think Chinese fan. One can use paper napkins, but I prefer cloth. Pick any color,  fold lenghwise once, then work folding into accordian, fold in half again, and stick into a teacup, or glass. The napkins could be tied with string at the bottom if you wanted to place it on the plate.

accordian fold

fold in half again
stick in teacup or glass
Here's an idea for a place card that is quick and easy and finishes off each table setting. Print out the names of your guests in an asian-looking font, and cut the names out. Slide the name into a fortune cookie. I took it one step further and painted the cookies with a gold bronzer. I swear I should be a spokesperson for this company, I think I've bronzed everything but baby shoes!!! I know that sounds insane, but it turned out really great, and I can keep them forever. It also took me all but 5 minutes yet made a huge difference in the overall effect.

Ambient lighting is very important in setting the mood. I used small teapots and put votives in them and set them on the window sill for ambiance. I used common household items from the pantry like rice and dried split-peas as fillers. Using glasses or teacups would look good too.

Paper lanterns are another affordable ambient source. These are on sale right now everywhere since summer is over.
Hanging these from different heights from the ceiling would be very festive. Available at Pier One.

One more of Tiff's Tips:
I like to mix it up at the table. One does not always have to match. Have you ever noticed that Chinese Restaurants rarely match their plates and bowls? I alternate dishes, bowls, spoons. Rule of thumb though, make sure one or two items are consistent so it does go together. For example, I kept the dishes the same, but alternated 4 patterns on the bowls. I also mixed up the spoons and chopstick holders but kept the napkins the same color and the tea cups the same. Using different chairs can also be fun but be careful with scale.

Put it all together, and you've got a well thought-out table, with little effort.

Once you've finished dinner, make it easy on yourself and serve sliced oranges for dessert like they do in the restaurants. I use bamboo skewers and it looks finished with no effort.

If your throwing a birthday party,  favors to go home with your guests is a nice touch. Fill small take out containers with chocolate covered edamame or with fun candy from an international market or Cost Plus.
That's it. Hope you can "take away" something from this post! Wishing you the best of luck on your next dinner party.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Tiff's Charlotte Discoveries: The Green

Recently I had discovered this magical little park in the heart of uptown, and on today, the 10th anniversary of 9-11, I thought it was appropriate to spotlight a place that illustrates city life, family, diversity and culture, all wrapped into one.

A quick train ride to uptown with the kids and soon we were surrounded by beautiful concrete, glass and  brick buildings, all displaying innovative designs. Across the street from The Green is the location of the Bechtler Contemporary Museum, The Mint Museum Uptown and The Duke Energy Building. It appeared that the fire and police departments were having a memorial ceremony for 9-11 and a fire engine was parked right across from the park. Just a breathtaking combination of patriotism and artistic freedom combined, on this day, it was very moving.

In the right hand corner is beautiful sculpture from the artist Niki de Saint Phalle, which I talk about more below.
The park itself is nestled between buildings and busy streets, a little oasis for those escaping the day's hustle and bustle. At the Tryon entrance into the park, is a sculpture of a book, all in brick with three dimensional children hanging and climbing from it. It's wonderful. The sculptor, Brad Spencer, named it "Life Is An Open Book".

Street Signs with cities and miles point this way and that's whimsical and fun. The pathways are detailed with inlaid tiles, stamped graphics and sounds coming from hidden speakers, like bees buzzing and water trickling down. Larger scaled chairs and chaise lounges are placed under blankets of trees for park-goers to sit and ponder. There are also poems engraved on large brass sheets, made to look like manuscript, just lying precariously on the grass or wrapped around a post.

Which way did he go????
I want this in my backyard!!

Translates to "I see you are two eyes for me"

Hopscotch with sight words!!!

A poem wrapped around the base of a lamppost.
With the sounds bees buzzing from camouflaged speakers, these stamped iron tiles are inlaid throughout the brick walkways.
Off to one side of the park is a beautiful fountain, three Koi fish in a triangular arrangement with carved quotes and a beautiful inlaid floor detail. In the backdrop is a red clay building. I love the mixture of this gray sculptural installation as the red is set behind, the sky is blue, a skyscraper yet further in the background. Add the sounds of children screaming and splashing...pure magic!

Inlaid fish detail in the ground spout water.

Hand prints captured on the fish.
Thoughtful quotes inscribed in a circular pattern.

At the opposite end of the park flank two bronze towers of books, with such titles as Wuthering Heights, Roots, and Leaves of Grass. Again, the reference to reading and books, with an emphasis on tolerance in an urban setting, is a great example for our children.

Another special feature of this park is the collaboration with the Bechtler Museum across the street to house some of it's sculptural pieces that are on display right on the parks' greens. The current exhibition, which sadly comes to an end on October 2nd is of famous artist and sculptor Niki De Saint Phalle. What an inspiration in color, scale and medium. I think all ages can appreciate and be affected in some manner by these spectacular (that's putting it lightly) sculptures.
The pictures I took does not do this marvelous sculpture justice. Every stone placed  were made of glass and metallics so beautiful and colorful. The inside is as beautiful as the outside too.
This is Miles Davis!!! (One of my all time favorites)
The sign was ripped off but I can only guess this is Tiger Woods...looks like it from the signature winning  fist pump.

The children were able to climb into and onto the skull and the cat. You can read more about this fascinating artist at: and . She had a very interesting life and is worth reading about.

If you have not embarked on this enchanting spot,  mark your calendar for the next two weekends and pack yourself a picnic, bring a towel or save room for pizza or a Chicago dog (Fuel Pizza and Chicago Dogs right there). You do not want to miss seeing these beautiful pieces of work.