Tag Archives: entertaining

Want to Live a Long, Healthy Life? Phone A Friend.

I recently read an article titled, Why Millennials Are Lonely. In it, author Caroline Beaton cites a number of potential reasons for our increasing sense of isolation and one cause, no surprise, is that social media has taken the place of what Beaton refers to as “offline” socialization. In other words, many people are spending time communicating through Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and texts, rather than sharing face time with friends. In the short-term, electronic communications can make us feel more connected to our peers; however, because the interactions are fleeting and lack depth, with time they can leave us empty.

That is especially sad, because loneliness is shown to increase our risk of heart disease and early death.

Conversely, a longitudinal study on health and happiness, conducted by researches at Harvard University, found that good health and longevity are strongly linked to building and maintaining positive relationships. People who have a close-knit group of friends and family members, will live longer and healthier lives. If you’d like to learn more about this 80 year project, check out Director Robert Waldingers Ted Talk here.

As the mother of a child who will grow up in a world even more consumed with electronics and Artificial Intelligence, I want to ensure that I am teaching her to value and sustain social connections. At seven years old, she already shows a deep interest in texting and Facebook. She loves the real-time conversations she can have with relatives across the world, even if they are limited to a few lines of text and some well placed emojis. And who doesn’t? Let’s face it, social media is convenient and instantaneous. However, she also loves hosting sleepovers and special events for her close friends. She finds joy in doing kind things for people, like handwriting thank you notes and gifting favorite books to younger children. Those are the interests I want to nurture.

How can we role model friendship for the young people in our lives, and in the process alleviate loneliness we may feel? Here are some quick and easy ways to connect with loved ones and build a deeper sense of community.

1.) Take time away from social media

When we step away from our phones, ipads, and computers, we become aware of something really interesting. Life is happening all around us! And when we take time to connect, life flows through us. If we just look up for a few moments, we might find something beautiful staring us in the face.

2.) Invite a friend on a walk.

Every evening after my little one has been tucked in for the night and my husband is relaxing with a good book, I take a walk through my neighborhood. Seeing other people out and about, walking their dogs, or chatting with friends on the front porch makes me feel connected to the place where I live. I will often invite one of my closest pals to go along with me. This is an easy way for us to get exercise and fresh air, but more importantly, it is a way to connect without any distractions. We talk about work, family, plans for the future. Nothing is off-limits. Those walks are therapeutic and they are something I look forward to them during my work day. Here’s another post we wrote about this topic.

3.) Host a “game night”

I grew up in the 90s when board games were still a big deal. From Trivial Persuit, to Pictionary, to Scattergories, you could usually find my family “gaming” around the dinner table on Friday nights. There is something lighthearted and comforting about the shenanigans that ensue as you play one of these classic games. Invite a small group of people over to share a bottle of wine and hunker down on the living room floor for some friendly competition. It is a great way to bond.

4.) Perform a selfless act for someone in need

Whether you bake cookies for the young family down the street, cuddle kittens at the local Human Society, or volunteer at Bingo night for the nursing home in your community, give selflessly to help others. As we take the focus off of ourselves and think of our neighbors, we can eliminate some feelings of isolation. Better yet, build community service, volunteerism, and regular acts of kindness into your life and model it for the children you know.

5.) Throw a cocktail party

Of all the parties you can put together, this one is the easiest. All you need are two cocktail choices that you mix ahead of time, and maybe a bottle of red and white wine. Put out a couple of simple snacks and ask everyone to bring a favorite wine or beer to share. Create a fun play list, and then mingle for a few hours. Cocktail parties are a great way to bring new people together. You can invite work colleagues, college friends, and some acquaintances that you’ve wanted to get to know better. It is a great way to build your social network.

6.) Pick up the phone

There is something melodic about the voice of a loved one. When I’m feeling lonely, there is always one person who can make me feel better. It’s been that way since I was a kid. After a hard day, if I can hear my brother’s voice, all is well with the world. We text an awful lot, but there are days when listening to his jokes and hearing is laughter is the only thing that will do. Next time you reach for your phone to text a friend, give them a ring instead.

Finally, this post was written to people who may have let personal connections slip away, or who may be looking for ways to prioritize their friendships. If you are feeling more than lonely…if you are depressed or despondent, it isn’t because you haven’t tried hard enough and we encourage you to seek help. Depression can’t be fixed with a cocktail party or a nature hike. And finally, because it can’t be posted enough, here is the number of the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-8255 (1-800-273-TALK)

Style Icon Peggy Guggenheim

Peggy Guggenheim

Trailblazer. Tastemaker. Trendsetter. Entertaining inspiration. Peggy Guggenheim.

I’ll never forget the day I was introduced to Peggy.

It was an October morning in Venice in 1999. The weather was lousy. It was cold and damp – the kind of day that chills your bones. People were out and about, wrapped in fashionable trench coats with the collars turned up to defend against the harsh wind. I stood along the Grand Canal in my college-chic GAP hoodie, entranced by gondolas slowly bobbing along steely water and jagged waves lapping against sinking plaster buildings. Everything was eerily gray like a pastel drawing that had been washed away with the wipe of a sponge.

I was studying abroad and for weeks had been traveling throughout Europe visiting the most important works of art from antiquity through the Baroque. This journey had taken me to the Louvre, the Borghese, the Prado, the Venice Academy, and more. Quite honestly, all of the masterpieces were beginning to bleed together and I was tired. In fact, I wondered if I wasn’t having some sort of allergic reaction to old art, as I seemed to lose my energy every time I entered another museum. On this particular day, I was visiting one I had never heard of before. The Peggy Guggenheim.

As a student of art history I was well acquainted with the Guggenheim name – but Peggy? Little did I know, I was being introduced to one of the most influential figures in 20th century art.

With a yawn, I stepped off of the Grand Canal and into her museum. Once inside my eyes grew wide as I took in the scene. It was as if I had entered another world. The Italian palazzo, which was had been her home from 1949-79, felt alive – it was breathing with bursts of vibrant color, undulating lines, splatter marks, and wild textures. The rooms did not feel “over stuffed” as some European galleries do. Instead, each piece of art was given room to shine. I felt true joy as I engaged with works by Picasso, Dali, Kandinsky, and Klee.

An eccentric heiress from the United States born in 1898, Peggy Guggenheim’s interest in avant-garde art developed while she was living in Paris in the 1920s. It was there that she was introduced to writers and artists who were challenging social norms of the time. Peggy, who as a teenager shaved off her eyebrows to shock those around her, found kindred spirits in Man Ray, Marcel Duchamp, and Samuel Beckett. It was because of these relationships that she began acquiring works of the Dadaists, Cubists, and Surrealists and abstract expressionists. Not an artist herself, this was Peggy’s way of becoming a central figure in this world of original, innovative ideas.

Peggy ran galleries in Europe and America. During World War II, she shipped a huge number of paintings out of Paris to New York City, protecting them from the Nazi war on Modernism. She gave Jackson Pollock his first exhibit, as well as several other artists whose work would influence modern culture. She had a terrific eye for spotting talent, anticipating the next “big thing”, and was happy to give her muses an international stage. She is known to have had numerous lovers including the most influential names in the art world.

After visiting her museum, I became a huge fan of Peggy Guggenheim. I quickly devoured her biography Art Lover by Anton Gill. In 2015, a documentary film on her life was released: Peggy Guggenheim Art Addict, which I would highly recommend as it features intimate interviews with Peggy.

Today a photograph of one of her cocktail parties hangs in my living room, reminding me to savor the simple pleasures in life.

Peggy loved being surrounded by creative people with creative ideas, and she was well know for hosting parties for her friends. It is said she usually served horrible food and bad wine, but people always attended her gatherings because they celebrated life. And that is what people loved about Peggy.

So often these days, if you pick up a book on entertaining you’d think you have to be a Michelin star chef in order to host an event. What if we just served mediocre food and cheap wine, and instead focused on building deeper friendships? Wouldn’t it be amazing to skip the fancy name cards, cloth napkins, and menus scrolled on chalkboards? Would the world fall apart? That is why Peggy is one of my entertaining heroes. Let’s celebrate idiosyncrasies. Instead of being shallow, let’s go deep where the most interesting connections happen.

In 2017 I resolved to host more gatherings. It is time display my favorite pieces of art, serve imperfection on a platter, and spend quality time with great friends.

Party at Peggy's House

Fabulous Peggy

Peggy Guggenheim in Venice

This Crazy, Beautiful Life

My seven-year-old daughter was given a homework assignment to complete over the winter break. She was asked to reflect on her greatest accomplishments of 2016 and develop a list of goals for the coming year.

Well, with a trip to Spain over the holidays, her homework was pushed aside until the very last moment. As the clock ticked away the final hours of our vacation, my daughter frantically picked up her sparkly blue pencil and rushed to work. Her answers were honest and, even with the time crunch, contemplative. She was proud of several successes in 2016: how hard she had worked in school and the fact that she had begun reading chapter books; her commitment to ballet and gymnastics which kept her active and strong throughout the year; and her go-with-the-flow attitude which served her well as she traveled to new places, making friends along the way. Her hopes for 2017 were simple, yet earnest: audition for a role in the Nutcracker ballet; read 9 books a day; learn more about animals and science so she may become a veterinarian one day; and continue to spend time with her two favorite people, mom and dad. That one was my favorite, of course.

I found her assignment inspiring. My daughter was setting goals based on her interests and growth over the previous year. She approached the exercise from a place of abundance. Oftentimes, as adults we start the new year reflecting on our perceived deficiencies – I need to do more of this, loose some of that – be different than who I am today. It is too bad, because a long the way we forget to build upon the unique strengths we already possess. And wouldn’t that be a kinder way to enter a new year?

Taking a cue from my little one, I’ve decided to use 2017 as an opportunity to set a very personal goal focused on that which I value most in this world. My family.

My goal for 2017:

Simple. I will continue to prioritize my family above all else. We will go sledding when it snows, spend Sundays making messy art projects, plant our vegetable garden in spring, travel over holiday breaks, and invite more friends into our home. We won’t wait for moments to celebrate, instead we will celebrate the little moments. And I will continue to share them here. I am also using our crazy, beautiful life as the inspiration for a book about family traditions that I will complete this year.

Dear 2016: you weren’t the easiest year – we had our ups and downs. But in the end, I thank you for the time and the tremendous memories. Here are some of my favorites…

Mara
Mara enjoying public art in Montreal
Hello Kitty
Our little one eyeing up the treats in China Town
Family Time in Nature
Enjoying a nature hike through Milwaukee’s botanical gardens
Riding the Waves
Aunt Masha and Uncle Seth taking our daughter for a ride on Lake Tahoe
Wading in the Water
Our little one braving the cold Tahoe water
A case of the sillies
My mother and brother sharing a moment in San Francisco
mara-seth
Celebrating my brother’s wedding in New Orleans
Witnessing the most beautiful wedding of 2016
Witnessing the most beautiful wedding of 2016
Kevin
Speaking of weddings, celebrating 12 years of marriage with the love of my life
Arc de Triomf in Barcelona
Spending the holidays in Barcelona
Playground 1
Enjoying a small park in Spain

My family was the inspiration for starting this blog. Entertaining Family allows me to document our adventures and the nuggets of wisdom we learn along the way. Writing about the people in my life brings me joy and I am so grateful to have a place to share my reflections. Thank you for sharing this space with me.

 

When Family Is Far Away: Tips For Maintaining Bonds

My little brother has always been my best friend. As a six-year-old child I remember getting out of bed in the middle of the night, my bare feet squeaking against the hardwood floors, and then quietly kneeling beside him to make sure everything was alright. Sometimes I would fall asleep with my head on his chest – comforted by the sound of his beating heart. Knowing that as long as he was breathing, my world was whole.

Today, like so many families, a thousand miles divide us – my brother is in San Francisco, and I’m in Milwaukee – and that daily closeness that we once shared has grown into something new. I suppose it is an appreciation for who we have become and the lives we have created. To say that I’m proud of my brother would be an understatement. I love hearing about his work, travels, and everyday adventures. He is an artist and approaches every aspect of his life with a passion for creating beauty. I have been so inspired by his decision to move across the country and build the life of his dreams. My only sadness is that I don’t usually get to observe his world in person. My window into his life is often a series of photos, texts, and phone calls shared late in the evening. I’m sure that many of you can relate. That’s why the time that we are able to spend together – however brief – is always cherished.

Nowadays, families are spread across the globe as we all venture out to make our mark on the world. Each of us has a set of values and a life purpose that drives us to find our place. And though we have never been more free to create the life we desire, research shows that people are lonelier and more isolated than ever. Maintaining family bonds and long-term friendships are critically important for our happiness and health. That’s why carving out time to connect with loved ones is so important.

At Entertaining Family we encourage you to savor the simple pleasures in life and spend time gathered around the table. Using those lenses, I am happy to share some strategies that my brother and I use to make the most of our visits:

We gather in the kitchen to make meals together. Sitting around a table to share a feast is one of life’s great treats. But preparing that feast can be when the real magic happens. Working together to create a meal is a great demonstration of teamwork, sharing, and compromise. For family members who haven’t been together in a while, this activity will help you bond quickly. We like to put on music, divide up responsibilities, and laugh and chat as we go.

At work in the kitchen

Sharing a love of cooking

We set a beautiful table. After preparing a delicious meal, it is rewarding to sit down at a celebratory table that truly showcases what we’ve worked so hard to create. Flowers, wine glasses, and serving trays make mealtime feel like an event. It also signals that the dinner table is a special place to spend time together.

Dinner table 1

Dinner table 2

We share stories. The food is what brings us to the table, but it is the conversation that makes us linger. Getting acquainted, sharing memories, and discussing family lore is what makes these moments so special. Looking across the table at the faces I love most in the world and listening to the stories of our shared history is one of my favorite ways to spend time. It lets all of us know that we are connected to something bigger than each one of us. The choices we make today are not just for our own benefit, but they are a loving tribute to the sacrifices of the past and a foundation for the generations who will come after us.

Family dinner

Spending time together

We ham it up, and laugh…a lot. Though the meal and the table have been designed to create a sense of beauty and abundance, our dinners are not formal. We laugh and get silly – this has always been our “family’s way”. Trying to get to know the soul of a person is what dinnertime is all about. It is through  playful engagement and lighthearted banter that we build true appreciation for one another. Laughter is sweet music, and my family is a talented orchestra.

The best additions ever

Mother and son

After dinner relaxation

We forgive each other. We understand that families are complicated social groups and sometimes this can lead to frustrations and hurt feelings. Though we are part of the same clan, we view life through our own filters. Something that is important to me may be trivial to you. Your political beliefs may be my worst nightmare. The way that I approach a situation will always be different from the way you deal with it. Forgiveness is important. In order to forgive, we have to try to see life from the other person’s vantage point and abandon the need to be right. We also have to be willing to say I’m sorry.

All of us are “works in progress”. Trying to be a better sister, mother, wife, daughter, and friend is something that I struggle with every day, but I put in the work because nothing is more important to me than my family. I appreciate that the people I love do the same thing for me.

Best friends

Before saying goodbye, we say “I love you”. My parents taught us a very important lesson early on – you always end a conversation as if it could be the last one you ever have – and there is nothing more important than telling someone I love you.

In our family I love you means I accept everything about you, I value your contributions to the world, I appreciate the ways in which you challenge me, and I will always, always support you and cheer you on.

“Unconditional love really exists in each of us. It is part of our deep inner being. It is not so much an active emotion as a state of being. It’s not ‘I love you’ for this or that reason, not ‘I love you if you love me.’ It’s love for no reason, love without an object.”
-Ram Dass
We hope this post may inspire you to visit your family – to reach out and show them how much you care. And tonight, I think I know who I am going to call…
{Thanks to my sister Masha for capturing some of these beautiful photos.}

Our Favorite Things – Pimm’s Summer Cup

The first time I visited the UK was early June of 1995. The weather was lovely and sunny but not especially warm. The friends I was visiting warned me that “summer” can be a relative term in the British Isles and to be prepared for anything. I packed accordingly (layers!) and spent a couple of beautiful summer weeks exploring the south of England and Wales.

One memorable day was spent in Bath. After touring the Roman sites and then listening to an extraordinary impromptu concert in the courtyard of Bath Abbey, we stopped for lunch at a small cafe. Our server, upon hearing me chatting, declared that an American her first trip abroad should drink something quintessentially British. Before I knew it there was a summer cup in my hand (and shortly thereafter a Bass ale, etc!).

Pimm’s is a gin based liqueur that tastes of citrus and spice with botanical notes. If you’re wondering about the exact ingredients don’t bother Googling the recipe. The formula is a well kept secret. I think it tastes a little like bitters but sweeter and smoother, though definitely not cloying. It has an alcohol content of about 25% so it retains a lot of flavor without an overpowering alcohol taste.

Much like the Mint Julep is the signature drink of the Kentucky Derby, Pimm’s is regularly served at events like Wimbledon and the Chelsea Flower Show. I’ve never seen one on a menu in my town – which is a shame because it’s a refreshing and unique drink that would make a great addition to a summer cocktail list. A quick internet search will yield dozens of recipes with a variety of ingredients to make the “perfect” cup. Try mine, or another that catches your eye and enjoy!

Pimm’s Summer Cup

20160630_170402

Fill a tumbler half-full with ice

Add 2 oz. Pimm’s

Finish with sparkling lemonade

Garnish with mint leaves and slices of strawberry and seedless cucumber

Variations

Substitute club soda, ginger ale, Sprite or Prosecco

For the garnish, try lemons, limes or oranges. Raspberries or blackberries make tasty additions as well.

Our Kitchen Remodel Is Complete!

Entertaining Family Kitchen Update

Dear friends, we made it. Our kitchen is finally finished! You may remember my nostalgic post that came at the start of this project. Well, after eight weeks of cramped quarters, take-out, and visits to the laundromat, the difficult days are behind us. And, I must admit, it was worth the wait (in retrospect) – we are absolutely loving our new space.

For our project we worked with Cynthia Musickant, an interior designer located in Mequon, Wisconsin. She helped us develop a personalized space that honors the way we live (laid-back, comfortable, relaxed…). After her first design consultation it was clear that she understood our style. My husband and I love vibrant colors, patterns, and textures, and crave unique design elements that are an extension of our personalities. He’s the creative director of an advertising agency, and I’m an art historian – needless to say, we don’t have conventional tastes.

Rather than create a bland space that might appeal to the masses, she put together a thoughtful plan that was perfectly suited for us. From the farmhouse sink to the old-fashioned pendant lights, the details are timeless and give a nod to the era of our old home. In contrast, the quartz counter tops, range hood, and stainless steel appliances are sleek and modern. I find that balance of old and new very pleasing. Of course, my favorite element of the entire design is the unique backsplash (the pièce de résistance) that ties everything together.

Entertaining Family Tile ProjectEntertaining Family Kitchen Island

In addition to finally having a bright and cheerful kitchen, our space is functional and easy to navigate. As people who love to entertain, we now have places to store our dishes, serving trays, gadgets, and doodads. We also have an island that doubles a prep space and a dining area – and that was important to us. Finally, our old kitchen was rather dark, as you can see in the slides below, so in order to let in more sunlight, the new kitchen has a decorative transom window overlooking our garden.

Here is a short slideshow of the before, during, and afters of our Entertaining Family kitchen project. I am so happy with the transformation. A huge thanks to our friends at Greener Roofs & Gardens who did the construction work on this project. They are also the talented team responsible for designing our phenomenal outdoor spaces.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Thank you for visiting! Now it’s time to get back to hosting dinner parties and posting wonderful recipes for our Entertaining Family community! -Mara

Vegan Brunch: Shiitake Mushroom Tofu Scramble With Micro Greens

As a vegan, it used to be that when a friend invited me for brunch, I would get a knot in my stomach. Let’s see, my options are eggs, more eggs, bacon, sausage, yogurt, butter laden hash browns, pancakes, waffles, and croissants. Hmmmm…could I have an English muffin with jam, hold the butter? And some black coffee?  Boring.

But times are a changin’! Most cities (including my beloved Milwaukee) have become vegan-friendly, so at many popular brunch spots I can find at least one thoughtful item on the menu. A fairly standard option is a tofu scramble. This staple is really versatile and can be made a myriad of ways…from tasteless and disappointing, to yummy and satisfying. This week’s recipe, of course, is all about yummy and satisfying!

Our Shiitake Mushroom Tofu Scramble turns things up a notch with Asian influences and plenty of flavor. It’s a great Sunday morning dish, whether you’re lounging around in your PJs reading the New York Times, or throwing a brunch for friends. The cooking time for this easy recipe is 10 minutes and it serves 4.

What you need:

14 zo. package of extra firm tofu

1 cup of shiitake mushrooms, sliced

1/2 of shallot, diced

1 cup of grape tomatoes, halved

1 clove of garlic, minced

1 teaspoon of ginger, minced

Dried Thai basil

5 fresh basil leaves, chiffonade

1 package of spicy micro greens for garnish (mustard or radish)

1/4 cup of olive oil

Tamari

Toasted sesame oil

Rice wine vinegar

Salt

To prepare:

In a large frying pan, heat 1/4 cup of oil over medium heat. Add your garlic, shallot, mushrooms, ginger, tomatoes, and a pinch of salt, and let cook until all of the ingredients become really tender, stirring so they don’t stick to the bottom of the pan. Then, add in the tofu, crumbling it between your fingers as you go (to give the look of scrambled eggs, rather than cubed/sliced tofu). Add in a pinch of dried Thai basil leaves and a tablespoon of tamari. As the tofu cooks, regularly stir the ingredients together to get an even heat throughout the dish. After 8 minutes of cooking, stir in the fresh basil and add another tablespoon of tamari. Let the tofu cook for 2 more minutes.

As the dish is finishing, put your micro greens into a bowl and dress with a dash of toasted sesame oil and rice wine vinegar, and a pinch of salt. Stir to make sure everything is evenly distributed.

Divide your tofu scramble into four portions and top with the spicy micro greens. On the table, set out tamari and Sriracha for extra zip.

vegan brunch