No Kitchen = No Fun

I have been pondering why I haven’t been writing here since I got to Oman. I haven’t particularly wanted to write. I have the strange sense that a part of me has been cut off and left in America, and I’ve somehow lost the dinner party part of my life without intending to.

At least it's pretty here

I hardly cook here. I love cooking for dinner parties because I love thinking about fancy recipes, who I will serve them to and in what atmosphere, and then actually making the fancy meal I’ve concocted in my head. I can’t do that here because I’m staying in someone else’s house, and it wouldn’t be appropriate for me to take over her kitchen. Unfortunately, domestic peace means limiting my cooking to heating up pasta sauce from a jar or making a quick stir-fry. I hate this reason, but it is what it is.

So, I’ve been thinking up ways to inspire myself without being able to actually create any of my ideas. I don’t know how to overcome this little problem except to come up with ways the ideas can be useful eventually.

A friend sent me a gorgeous meditation on creating for the sake of creating, and I highly recommend reading it for anyone who struggles with their creativity – which is all of us, right?  How to Steal Like an Artist

Luckily for me and my need for a purpose before I feel like coming up with fun dinner party ideas, my friend Kamala Nair is coming out with her debut novel, The Girl in the Garden, quite soon. I have already written about it here and here, as I’m sure you’ll all remember and I’m also sure you have all pre-ordered it so you can have it in your hot little hands earlier than than the non-pre-order slackers. Well done. You’re all bi-winning. [Oh what? Charlie Sheen jokes are already old? Nerds!] The Girl in the Garden will be in bookstores June 15, and will be positioned at the front of Barnes & Noble stores starting June 21, which is a VERY big deal, by the way! It will also be featured on the site on the Starbucks Digital Network from 6/28-7/12. There won’t even be any books available by June 29! Aren’t you glad you pre-ordered?

Look at how gorgeous her website is:

Parties simply must be thrown around the theme of her book! I’m going to be writing about some gorgeous ideas I have. Well, to be honest, this book is so evocative, parties can’t help but be gorgeous. Book clubs will particularly find these ideas useful, but anyone can use them – you don’t even need to tell your guests about the fictional inspiration if you don’t want to (but DO, because her book is really really good).

I am also getting excited about going to visit my dad and stepmom and stepbrothers soon, and having people to cook for and a kitchen to cook in! So expect some menus related to family home cooking, with a little gourmet thrown in of course.

So there you go. For the next month or so, look out for Girl in the Garden-themed recipes and party ideas. I can’t wait for you to all read it, and then you’ll really understand the ideas and all be desperate to throw gorgeous parties full of glamour and mystery and definitely some romance for good measure.

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Life Temporarily Taking Over


Extremely accurate rendering of my desk

My life is becoming crazy busy for the next few weeks, so unfortunately there’s an equal and opposite reaction on BB&B and posting will be slow for a little while. I promise to come back with a lot of interesting new ideas and adventures, as I will be traveling soon and am so excited to tell you all about it!

In the meantime, I’ll be thinking of more elaborate ways to celebrate Kamala Nair’s debut novel, Girl in the Garden, and will have menus, recipes and design ideas coming soon. {See my original ideas here}

Girl in the Garden just got a glowing blurb from the amazing author Thrity Umrigar:

Kamala Nair has crafted an evocative, passionate, tragic novel about love, loss and the terrible cost of family secrets. An impressive debut.
–Thrity Umrigar, bestselling author of The Space Between Us

Did I mention Girl in the Garden is coming out June 15? Did I mention that it has a Kindle edition, if you’re into that sort of space age technology thing? Did I mention you should pre-order it at its amazingly low pre-order price?

You should. Click here.

Speaking of Bitters…

Let’s all shed a tear for the end of The Minimalist column in The New York Times. Mark Bittman has given us years of simpler but not simplistic recipes – particularly the famous no-knead bread (original here, quicker version here) that really jump-started the homemade bread craze in New York City.

Well. At least there are archives of the nearly 700 columns to turn to in moments of need. And as a farewell, he combined my two current cocktail obsessions: bitters and champagne!

Tony Cenicola/The New York Times

Tony Cenicola/The New York Times

bittersweet champagne cocktail:

  • 3/4 teaspoon bitters
  • 1/2 ounce lemon juice
  • 1/4 ounce maple syrup
  • 6 ounces Champagne
  • Twist of lemon.

Stir the bitters, juice and syrup in a flute. When combined, add the Champagne. Squeeze the lemon twist over the top, wipe the rim with it and discard.

Yield: 1 drink.

I must try! Bitters and champagne in one drink, what are the chances?


Just what the hell are bitters?

Fee Brothers Old Fashioned Bitters, in many flavors

Fee Brothers Old Fashioned Bitters, in original or flavored

A friend sent me a Wall Street Journal article on recreating an 1896 dinner that included a drink recipe with bitters in it.

But [Mr. Kimball] also discovered perfection in a 19th-century punch (4 tablespoons sugar, 8 tablespoons lime juice, 1 cup rum, 1 cup water, pinch of nutmeg, 5 drops bitters—combine, then pour over ice). “It was so good,” he says, “that we have been drinking it ever since.”

If they had bitters in 1896, they must be somewhat organic, right? (As opposed to some sort of newfangled chemical process, which is how I had always imagined them.)


It turns out they are literally just bitter herbs marinated in high proof alcohol, such as vodka, for several months. Jamie Boudreau has written quite the definitive explanation of bitters on his blog, and included homemade recipes as well as details of the classic flavor combinations to make bitters.

This will be the ingredient that will make your bitters, well, bitter. Common ingredients are gentian, quassia or even wormwood (famous as an ingredient in absinthe). These flora are usually extremely bitter, and a little will go a long way.

This is where you have your chance to show off your creativity. Simple bitters will have one flavor, such as orange or peach or grapefruit. But the sky is the limit when it comes to bitters. Want to add vanilla-cardamom? Go for it! Lemongrass and ginger? Why not? Xocolatl Mole? Been done!

Obviously more ingredients will add more complexity to your bitters, just make sure that they play together and remember, sometimes simple one and two flavor bitters are better.

Most bitters are kept in alcohol, but you can make non-alcoholic bitters if you really wanted (they will have a very short shelf life). I usually try to find the highest proof alcohol I can get my hands on, as this seems to extract more flavor from my herbs and spices as well as give the final product an indefinite shelf life (alcohol is a preservative after all). For lighter bitters I may use a high-proof vodka or gin as my solution, while rum, whiskey and brandy are the spirits that I look to when creating heavier, darker bitters.


Here’s another recipe and explanation from the creator of Urban Moonshine, which makes a – for real – a purse-sized spray of bitters in three flavors. I guess some people just can’t let anything get between them and their bitters.

Winter White and Lace

I’m still loving the white table for winter…{here, and here}

Martha makes these gorgeously simple lace-covered candle holders, which would look so pretty with baby’s breath bouquets. She says to use rectangular doilies. Where does one find such a thing, I wonder? At a craft store, probably. Or definitely online. A little double-stick tape, and you’re all set with a table that has texture and depth, for not much money. Love it!

Champagne Tasting Party Report


It was a fabulous New Year’s Eve. We kicked back with a select number of cool friends around (not too many, not too few), it was raucous at times, chill at times, and so fun we almost forgot to count down to midnight. I think a few people were actually a little annoyed that we interrupted the dance party for such a mundane event.

So yeah. Awesome.

AND I continued my streak of totally forgetting to take photographs of things, and while there were lots of people taking photos, none of them has volunteered any of them to go on the internet, which should also confirm that yes, it was a good party.

I’ve decided I need to designate an official photographer (who is not me) at any events I want to go on BB&B, because I’m clearly just never going to do it on my own. Too much rushing around, answering doors, making sure food is properly finished and presented, refilling drinks, changing playlists, introducing people – you know the drill of throwing a party. Maybe one day I’ll remember to take photos…

So what won the champagne tasting? It’s so predictable that’s shocking.


The widow herself: Veuve Clicquot.

The Veuve and Perrier-Jouet were probably the most expensive champagnes there – no one was going to go nuts on a really nice bottle on a night when our taste buds probably weren’t in top form – and the Veuve won hands-down. The Perrier-Jouet actually was almost in last place. To test the results, I opened a bottle the other night and um, YUM, it’s tasty. My theory is that because it’s a drier champagne, all the sweet ones we tried blew out the subtler flavors of the Perrier, making it taste kind of not so nice compared to all the others.

So eh, it’s not an exact science. But it’s a fun one.

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