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Category Archives: Dinner Parties

The Habsburgs Knew How to Set a Table

The Habsburgs Knew How to Set a Table

Last Thursday was some Austria holiday. Don’t ask me what the holiday was. At any rate, I had the day off from German class, so I went with a friend to explore Vienna. We ended up at the Sisi Apartments, which is a lovely museum that shows the fine trappings of living at the seat of the Holy Roman Empire for 400 or so years.

The Imperial Palace

The Sisi Apartments are full of brass and porcelain and silver and other wonderful things. Makes me want to set a table. Not just put out plates and utensils, but, you know, actually have three or four plates, use a dessert fork, etc.  I have been dying to start collecting a set of mismatched vintage China. All the different patterns make my heart go pitter-patter. Something like this:

Yum. (I didn’t take this picture, but cannot figure out the original source).

Or like this:

Double yum. Isn’t it enticing? (Another picture that I didn’t take but cannot find the original source.)

And the Sisi Museum is full of the most AMAZING porcelain collections. The flea markets are also full of incredible vintage porcelain sets. I would start collecting now, but it would break when I take it back to the States, and I am moving probably 2 times in the upcoming year. So it’s not logical and stuff. Le sigh. Or I guess in German it would be: Die Sigh. Or Das Sigh. I am not good with the gendered pronouns.

In the royal family, it was important that all young men have a hobby. One of the Habsburgs (don’t ask me which one) was lacking in a hobby for a time, until he became interested in gardening and horticulture. Of course, he had lush, well-stocked gardens. And to go along with his interest, he had multiple sets of gorgeous porcelain dishes, each with a different hand painted bloom delicately gracing the smooth surface. Just incredible.

Unfortunately, the China was all behind glass so it was difficult to photograph these lovelies.

A center piece. Yeah. I know. FABULOUS!

Vintage silver. Another thing I want to start collecting.

Another center piece thingy.

I died. Hand painted birds and a lobster?!!?!

The set above was used for royal hunting parties. I think it was my favorite set. Seriously, lobster serving platter? What does one have to do to become a Habsburg to get access to this china? Oh, wait… I think there was a 30 Rock about that:

So maybe marrying the last Habsburg heir is out of the question, but a girl can dream… I mean, a girl can dream about china. Not the last Habsburg heir. (If you haven’t seen this episode, you definitely need to. It’s amazing.)

And one final picture of incredible porcelain for the road:

Little butterflies. On the plates and in my tummy when I think about setting a table with this divine stuff.

I am off to enjoy a lovely day sunning myself along the lush banks of the Danube.

Mit Liebe,


Flower Napkin Rings (Made from Soda Cans?!?!)

Flower Napkin Rings (Made from Soda Cans?!?!)

This is another one of those projects that I have been sitting on because it’s a gift and it took me months to mail.

Some of you may recall another set of napkin rings that I made a while back. They were made from soda cans! I got the idea (and the tutorial) from Crissy’s Crafts. Making the flowers is super easy, then you just spray paint them and attach them to shower curtain rings!

See? Just wrap wire around to attach to shower curtain rings.

The best part of this whole project (aside from being practically free)? Well, I was telling my dad that I was making napkin rings for our dear family friend. He jokingly asked (my dad thinks he’s HILARIOUS) if I was making them out of toilet paper rolls. I got all indignant about him mocking my craft and retorted: “No! Gosh, Dad! I’m making them out of soda cans!!” I said this with a complete deadpan, and didn’t realize the ridiculousness of my retort until my father doubled over laughing at me.

The paint crackled a little because I spray painted in the dead of winter. Don't be like me.

As my father always tells me, “Why have kids if you can’t make fun of them?”

So start saving your soda cans to make napkin rings for all your friends. I guarantee they will be a big hit.



Latkes (AKA Potato Pancakes)

Latkes (AKA Potato Pancakes)

For those not in the know, latkes are potato pancakes that are traditionally eaten at Hanukah (pronounced “lot – KA”, almost rhymes with “vodka”). Hanukah is all about eating fried foods to commemorate the oil that lit the eternal light for 8 days, when it really should have lasted only one day.  Obviously, frying things at Hanukah makes perfect sense. Right?


So get ready to celebrate eight days of fried food by making some yummy latkes. Whether or not you are Jewish, I promise you will like them. Fried potatoes with onions? What’s not to like? Oh, and we eat latkes with sour cream and apple sauce. I don’t know why, but it’s an awesome flavor combination. Trust me.

To make the latkes for about 5 people:


About 3 lbs russet potatoes, washed and shredded. You can make quick work of shredding with a food processor with grating attachment. The potatoes don’t need to be peeled.

1.5 large onions, also shredded in the food processor

4 eggs

Salt and pepper

About 1/3 cup of flour (can use more if needed to get the potatoes to bind).

Lots of oil, preferably peanut or canola – something that has a high smoking point.

Lots of grated potatos

How To:

Once you have shredded the potatoes, rinse them in hot water to get the starch off. Drain well. Mix with the shredded onions, eggs, at least 1 tsp of salt and 1 tsp of pepper and the flour. Sometimes it’s easier to just mix this together with your hands.

Potatoes and eggs.

While mixing, put about 1/4 of cup of oil into frying pan. We used an electric skillet so that we could cook the latkes in the garage, because otherwise your house will smell like latkes for days. Now, this isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but just an FYI. Also, you should use a frying pan that has a lid, because this will help reduce grease splattering.

We cooked our latkes in the garage, and my dad covered nearby surfaces with painter’s paper and an oil towel to make clean up a little easier. The grease has a tendency to get on any and every surface.

Latke cooking station in the garage. Notice how my dad used painter's tape/paper to shield the cabinets from splattering grease.

Put on your latke clothes – oil will splatter, so I recommend wearing a old long sleeve shirt that can get dirty. I also like wearing oven mitts on each hand, because that prevents the grease from splattering on my hands when flipping the latkes. The crucial thing here is that your arms and hands are protected. A normal kitchen apron will not do the trick. I learned the hard way.

When the oil is hot (use a medium-high heat), put generous scoops of the potato mix into the hot oil (about 1/4 to 1/3 cup of the mix). Be careful: oil will splatter (I will keep on warning you about this, because it hurts). Let the latkes cook for about 4 minutes on each side, until a deep golden brown. Then flip. Again, be careful of hot grease!

Golden brown. But watch out for splattering grease. Ouchy!

Place cooked latkes on cookie sheets lined with brown paper grocery bags to soak up the grease. Add more oil to the pan as necessary to keep cooking the rest of the latkes. Keep cooked ones in a warm oven until it’s time to serve.

Top with plenty of apple sauce and sour cream. YUM YUM YUM!!!

Latke with sour cream and apple sauce.

I forgot to take pictures before I got the plate dirty, so this is actually a picture of a second-helping. One day, I will write a post where I don’t have to apologize for my poor photography. But that’s not today. May not be tomorrow. Only time will tell.

Happy Hanukah!

Love, Rachel

Happy Thanksgiving! (And briefly, how to slow roast a turkey).

Happy Thanksgiving! (And briefly, how to slow roast a turkey).

Yes, I realize I am a few days late. But I was so busy making Thanksgiving food, and then even busier eating Thanksgiving food, that it took me a day or two to get my act together to share about this Thanksgiving. And what a lovely holiday it was!? A delightful combination of wine, dessert and friends. I think this photo sums up Thanksgiving perfectly:

The essence of Thanksgiving: dessert and friends... (Clockwise from bottom: pumpkin pie, apple-cran pie, triple chocolate pumpkin pie and super gingery gingerbread. All with whipped cream).

This year, I spent Thanksgiving in Baltimore with my bestie, Amelia. Amelia and I went to middle school and high school together, so when we hang out it’s like we revert to being 16 years old and it’s SUPER fun. Amelia and I were in charge of cooking for the four of us.

The menu:

Nosching plate of cheese, prosciutto and dried figs.

Slow roasted Turkey

Mashed Potatoes

Moose sausage stuffing (OMG soooo good!) (cornbread stuffing with sauted onions/celery, garlic, fresh herbs, dried cranberries soaked in chicken broth, pecans, and moose sausage flown in all the way from Alaska. This stuff was crazy good.)

Roasted brussel sprouts and carrots


Cranberry-Pomegranate Relish (fresh cranberries, whole orange, ground ginger and sugar blended in food processor, then add chopped pecans and pomegranate seeds. Let sit over night if possible).

Canned Cranberry (of course)

Dessert: Classic pumpkin pie, triple chocolate pumpkin pie, apple-cran pie with streusel topping and super gingery gingerbread. Yes, I realize there are as many desserts as people for dinner, but that was planned. How else would you do it? A post on desserts will happen in the future (hopefully).

Amelia and I spent the day in the kitchen on Thursday (after staying up late on Wednesday making multiple pies). Here is a photo journal of what we did that day:

1. Remove turkey from basting bag. Turkey had been sitting in brine with pepper corns, tons of salt, fresh herbs (sage, rosemary and thyme), onions and bay leaves. Rub turkey down with butter/salt/pepper mixture, stick 1 quartered onion into cavity, insert fresh herbs into turkey breast (make incision into breast and insert herbs), also insert herbs under the skin, directly onto the meat. Put into 220F degree oven breast-side down. Baste every hour or so. When bird is about 140F or 145F, flip right-side up. Remove once breast temperature reaches 155F – you may want to cook for last hour at 300F to get the skin a little darker, because the skin doesn’t crisp up at 220F. Let sit for 20 minutes before carving.

Slow roasting the turkey. A 16 pound bird took about 6.5 hours.

2. Take dog for a run. Dog chases and barks at squirrels.

Chloe, dreaming big.

3. Maturely talk about our Thanksgiving dish preferences.

Debate about whether stuffing gets roasted inside the bird or outside. Outside the bird won.

4. Indulge a little while cooking.

Simple math: Case of wine + friends + cheese = wonderful Turkey day.

5. Indulge a little more. Four types of cheese (a triple cream, cambozola, something soaked in wine whose name escapes me right now, and a mushroom brie) served with prosciutto and dried figs.

To nosch while cooking.

6. Maturely discuss whether we like our mashed potatoes lumpy or smooth.

Settling another debate...with brussel sprout stalk.

6. Baste the turkey a few times.

You want me to do what with this?

7. Check the turkey for doneness. Bird should be 155F. You can also make the gravy once the bird is out (which is what is happening in the background of the picture below). Most people check the temperature with a meat thermometer. Amelia chose to use the old-fashioned way, the face thermometer.

Wait, Amelia! Can't eat the turkey until there's gravy!

7. Torment the dog.

Chloe wants dark meat!

8. Admire your handiwork. You can see the slit in the breast where I stuffed the bird with rosemary, thyme and sage.


9. Carve the turkey.

Light or dark meat?

10. Admire your spread.

Dinner time!

11. Do whatever dorky/endearing traditions that your family requires. We all had to have first bites that included a little bit of everything, and we went around the table and said what we were thankful for. I am thankful for cranberry sauce! And you know… friends, family… etc…

Happy Thanksgiving everybody!

Gobble gobble,


“Epic”* Dinner Party!

I LOVE hosting dinner parties. But lately, I have been less than great about doing this. Things get in the way. Midterms. And I lacked the perfect table linens. Or more accurately, I lacked any table linens. Excuses, excuses.

So I went out and bought some table linens.

And then, the other day, I realized that I had committed one of my biggest etiquette faux pas: I had enjoyed a lovely evening at a friend’s house for dinner, but had failed to reciprocate. When I realized I was guilty of this sin, I was mortified. I am serious. I. was. mortified. My parents had always told me that when someone invites you over for dinner, it’s bad manners not to invite them to your house at some point. They often talked about which couples “reciprocated” and which couples “never reciprocated.”  Even at five years old, I wasn’t quite certain what it meant to “reciprocate” or more specifically, “not reciprocate,” but I knew it was something that I never wanted to do. (Note: This is not a blog post trying to pressure or guilt my friends into inviting me over to dinner. But, you know, a girl’s gotta eat… I kid! I kid! No pressure. Seriously!)

This dinner had to be fancy. At least napkin-ring fancy. More information on how to make these DIY napkin rings in later post. And OMG, I love my new place mats. Don't you?

In addition to this tremendous guilt and fear that I would forever be labeled “selfish guest who doesn’t return the favor of inviting friends over for dinner,” I really like the people who had me over for dinner. I didn’t want to slight them. I hoped it wasn’t too late, and extended a dinner invitation ASAP. With a promise of chocolate pecan pie, it was not long before the invitation was accepted. (Although, when I talked about not making the pie but still having the dinner, the response I got from the invitee was: “No pie, no deal.” I am 100% serious. I have the text message as proof. So, I definitely made the pie).

Chocolate Pecan Pie. Martha talks specifically about taking the time to put the pecans in concentric circles. I agree.

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