We moved into our 1931 brick Tudor house about a year and a half ago now, and thankfully we didn’t have to do any major structural changes or pricey updates, but the house felt dark and cramped right away. If you’re familiar with Tudor homes, the rooms are traditionally quite small, so have a few friends over and things can quickly start to feel tight. Throw a dog or a baby into the mix and it feels downright tiny at times. It didn’t help that when we moved in, many of the rooms were painted dark shades of maroon and olive green, and the lighting fixtures were dated at best.
After Oliver was born, we had lots of visitors and the dining room is where people would often gather. And for that reason, it was always the space I wanted to work on — I was convinced this small, dark room could feel lighter and more spacious. So a few months ago I reached out to Rejuvenation to see if they were interested in working with me on styling the dining room and entry to make our home feel less dated and more open and welcoming. And it seemed after we were done, there was no better excuse for drinks and snacks.
When we bought our house, our tiny dining room (seats 4! And 1 robust bar!) was painted a very dark maroon and had an old, heavy chandelier. Before we even moved in, I promptly painted the room a soft gray and we hemmed and hawed about what would best replace the chandelier. Because the room is so small, we were tempted to go with a smaller flush-mount fixture to open up the space, but the folks at Rejuvenation encouraged us to try more of a statement piece, and after a few visits to the store and a bit of time online, I found this Linen Tiered Drum Pendant. While it’s certainly not small, the tiered shape and breezy linen shade help to add a focal point to the room without feeling clunky, and the antique brass finish fits in perfectly with the knobs and other fixtures throughout the house.
The dining room table belonged to my mom from her graduate school days in Burlington, Vermont. It’s an antique, and it’s pretty creaky but I love the dark wood and its slim, square shape fits perfectly into our small space. But the room started to feel like … a lot of wood and I wanted to find a rug to soften things up. The problem? Loud, graphic rugs can often make a space feel smaller, but I knew I could find one that had the opposite effect.
After visiting the Rejuvenation store, I fell in love with the Skyline rug and decided to try it out in the space. It has a soft palette that works well with the color of the walls, and really pulls together the room.
Now for something on the walls. In the dining room itself, we have hung some wedding photos (mostly of our friends) in simple brass frames, but we’re both pretty picky about what we want to stare at every day. It’s no small feat to find a clock with a clean, modern profile that you actually want to look at, and the Champagne Beech Clock is just that. It’s functional and beautiful, and such a remarkable upgrade from the retro diner clock we’d hung previously — a relic from my college days in Boulder, Colorado.
But no matter how inviting the dining room was (and how stocked the bar), there’s a limited window of time in which friends want to stand around the dining room table, so inevitably people trickle into the living room (you can see a photo of my friend Jen sitting on our couch, below, flanked by our Modernica ceramic planter and the Bruno Double Arm floor lamp which has proven to be my favorite spot to sit and read after putting Oliver to bed).
A welcoming space is all fine and good for get-togethers, but drinks and snacks are pretty important, too. For this gathering, we had some of our neighborhood friends over (most just walked — a huge bonus of living where we do) and Sam made cocktails. He worked off the cuff mostly, as he likes to do, but created a few that we all fell in love with (one which I’m sharing below). For snacks, I’m a big fan of keeping things simple with relatively little fuss. So I picked up a bunch of different cheeses, castelvetrano olives, seedy crackers, salami, salty almonds, and remember that cherry yogurt cake from last month? That, too. It was substantial enough to serve as a light meal, and after everyone left I wondered why we don’t have cheese, crackers, salami and cake for dinner more often. Noted.
While I initially set up all of the snacks in the dining room, as the evening went on we ended up bringing plates of cheese and crackers into the living room to lounge and catch up. The Holdridge Hook Rack in the entryway helped clear any coat/purse clutter, making sure we had room to spread out a bit. And as is often the case, we end up short on seating in the living room (or any room) so when we have people over, we inevitably end up grabbing some chairs from the kitchen or from my office. I think the mismatched, impromptu nature just makes people ultimately feel more at home.
When everyone was ready to leave, we did a lot of lingering by the front door saying long goodbyes. When we moved in, our entryway had a very standard, basic (and slightly rusty) lighting fixture that we decided to replace with the Cedar and Moss pendant (top left, below). You can adjust the length of these pendants, so we made ours super squatty — I was worried at first that it would feel a little too flashy for our space, but it actually adds an updated freshness and a muted modern sensibility which I love.
I realize up until now I haven’t shared many photos of our house since we moved in, and with the newly-redesigned site, I’m planning on featuring occasional home and gathering posts — giving you a bigger peek into our days — not just isolated shots of food on our table. I know I love to return to websites and blogs where I get a fuller sense for people’s lives, so hopefully – maybe, just maybe – you may feel similarly.
But for now: giveaways + cocktail recipes! Rejuvenation was kind enough to offer a reader of A Sweet Spoonful a chance to win $200 to spend in their store or online! Check out how to enter below.
a Rafflecopter giveaway
All photos in this post were taken by our friend Gabe Rodriguez of Gabriel Boone Photography. From weddings to babies to homes and events — Gabe does it all, and we were lucky to have him step in and make our home look so lovely!
Carpano is a smooth sweet vermouth with somewhat nutty, and almost – almost – chocolatey notes that dance really well with the Chartreuse (An alternative to the Carpano could be Punt e Mes, with a slightly more herbal taste). This helps make this a much more interesting and elegant drink than standard sweet vermouth, though you would still have a worthwhile drink if that’s all you have on hand.
Chartreuse is an elegant little garden of a liqueur, with lemon balm, spearmint, feverfew and quite a few other herbs layered over one another. With the dark elegance of the Carpano providing the drink more of a backbone, the chartreuse is the spirit and soul. The Campari (however you add it) and the orange bitters? That’s a little extra gleam in the eye.
Rinse a coupe glass with Campari (or just a dash, blended with the other ingredients) and pour out (or keep).
You can stir the other ingredients together in ice for 40 seconds, straining this into the coupe, for slightly stronger, less-diluted drink, or shake the ingredients together over ice, vigorously, and you’ll have a beautiful “crema” of sorts on the top of the drink (seen above).
Winter Comfort Food
I intended on baking holiday cookies to share with you today, but when I sat down to brainstorm all I could think about, truly, was the morning porridge I've been making and how that's really what I wanted to send you away with. The holiday season always seems to zoom on by at its own clip with little regard for how most of us wish it would just slow down, and this year feels like no exception. We got our tree last week and I've been making a point to sit in the living room and admire the twinkle as much as possible. I have lofty goals of snowflakes and gingerbread men and stringing cranberries and popcorn, but I'm also trying to get comfortable with the fact that everything may not get done, and that sitting amongst the twinkle is really the most important. That and a warm breakfast before the day spins into gear. This multi-grain porridge has proved to be a saving grace on busy weekday mornings, and it reheats beautifully so I've been making a big pot and bringing it to work with some extra chopped almonds and fresh pomegranate seeds. While cookies are certainly on the horizon, I think I'll have this recipe to thank for getting us through the busy days ahead.
We returned home from San Francisco on New Years Eve just in time for dinner, and craving greens -- or anything other than baked goods and pizza (ohhhh San Francisco, how I love your bakeries. And citrus. And winter sunshine). Instead of driving straight home, we stopped at our co-op where I ran in for some arugula, an avocado, a bottle of Prosecco, and for the checkout guys to not-so-subtly mock the outlook of our New Years Eve: rousing party, eh? They looked to be in their mid-twenties and I figured I probably looked ancient to them, sad even. But really, there wasn't much sad (or rousing, to be fair) about our evening: putting Oliver to bed, opening up holiday cards and hanging them in the kitchen, and toasting the New Year with arugula, half a quesadilla and sparkling wine. It wasn't lavish. But it's what we both needed. (Or at least what we had to work with.) Since then, I've been more inspired to cook lots of "real" food versus all of the treats and appetizers and snacks the holidays always bring on. I made Julia Turshen's curried red lentils for the millionth time, a wintry whole grain salad with tuna and fennel, roasted potatoes, and this simple green minestrone that I've taken for lunch this week. Determined to fit as many seasonal vegetables into a bowl as humanly possible, I spooned a colorful pesto on top, as much for the reminder of warmer days to come as for the accent in the soup (and for the enjoyment later of slathering the leftover pesto on crusty bread).
If I asked you about what you like to cook at home when the week gets busy, I'm willing to bet it might be something simple. While there are countless websites and blogs and innumerable resources to find any kind of recipe we may crave, it's often the simple, repetitive dishes that we've either grown up with or come to love that call to us when cooking (or life in general) seems overwhelming or when we're feeling depleted. While my go-to is typically breakfast burritos or whole grain bowls, this Curried Cauliflower Couscous with Chickpeas and Chard would make one very fine, very doable house meal on rotation. The adaptations are endless, and its made from largely pantry ingredients. I never thought I'd hop on the cauliflower "rice" bandwagon, but I have to say after making it a few times, I get the hype.
People describe raising young kids as a particular season in life. I hadn't heard this until we had a baby, but it brought me a lot of comfort when I'd start to let my mind wander, late at night between feedings, to fears that we'd never travel internationally again or have a sit-down meal in our dining room. Would I ever eat a cardamom bun in Sweden? Soak in Iceland? I loved the heck out of our tiny Oliver, but man what had we done?! Friends would swoop in and reassure us that this was just a season, a blip in the big picture of it all. They promised we'd likely not even remember walking around the house in circles singing made-up songs while eating freezer burritos at odd hours of the day (or night). And it's true.
Oliver is turning two next month, and those all-encompassing baby days feel like a different time, a different Us. In many ways, dare I say it, Toddlerhood actually feels a bit harder. Lately Oliver has become extremely opinionated about what he will and will not wear -- and he enforces these opinions with fervor. Don't get near the kid with a button-down shirt. This week at least. He's obsessed with his rain boots and if it were up to him, he'd keep them on at all times, especially during meals. He insists on ketchup with everything (I created a damn monster), has learned the word "trash" and insists on throwing found items away on his own that really, truly are not trash. I came to pick him up from daycare the other day and he was randomly wearing a bike helmet -- his teacher mentioned he'd had it on most of the day and really, really didn't want to take it off. The kid has FEELINGS. I love that about him, and wouldn't want it any other way. But, man it's also exhausting.
We recently had our favorite day of married life yet. When I tell you what it consisted of, you may worry or chuckle. Sundays used to be sacred in our house in the sense that it was our one day off together. We'd often read the paper, get a slice of quiche at Cafe Besalu, or take walks around Greenlake or Discovery Park. But now Sundays are generally when I work the farmers market for Marge Granola, and Sam helps me set up and take down each week, so they've taken on a very different feel, one more of work than leisure. So a few months ago, after mildly panicking that we no longer had any routines or days off, we reclaimed Saturdays as 'the new Sunday' and last weekend set the bar pretty high. The day began really cold: in the high 20's and graduated, eventually, to the 30's. We decided it'd be nice to just stay inside; Sam had a little work to do and some letters to write. He had a few articles he'd been wanting to read. And I'd been thinking about this lasagna recipe, so I puttered around the kitchen roasting squash and slicing garlic. The afternoon ticked on slowly. Sam made us baked eggs for a late lunch and I tried unsuccessfully to nap. I think it was the calmest we'd both felt in a long time. I'm lucky to have found a man who loves spending time at home as much as I do. While we both love going out to see friends, traveling, and having people over to our place, we also gain the most, I'd say, by doing simple things around the house -- straightening up, making a meal. organizing records or books or photos. Especially in this season of cold temperatures and early-darkening skies, it's what I crave the most. And last Saturday closed in the best of ways: we opened a bottle of "wedding wine" (thanks to my neurosis and fear we'd run out, we over-ordered wine when planning for our wedding) and dug into generous slices of this very special vegetarian lasagna, a hearty layered affair with caramelized onions, a sage-flecked tofu ricotta and a simple, savory butternut squash purée.