Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Finishing Touches Cocktails & Design at “What’s New, What’s Next” Annual New York Design Center 9/14!


Please join me at In House Kitchen, Bath and Home for a very special presentation.

Acclaimed interior designer, Toni Sabatino and I will present a Wood-Mode sponsored glamorous cocktail party!
While sipping two special cocktails from my book, Finishing Touches and the Art of Garnishing the Cocktail, and nibbling on lots of special food pairings from the book - learn how design, ingredients, tablescapes, and creativiy come together for a Finishing Touches lifestyle.

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Saturday, September 9, 2017

See You at NYDC "What's New, What's Next" Finishing Touches Design Presentation at In House

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Garden To Glass Couture Cocktail from Finishing Touches: The Art of Garnishing the Cocktail - Homage to Hacienda Cusin Hummingbirds 

Next week, the glitterati from the worlds of design will gather for the annual “What’s New, What’s Next” event to kick off the fall design season at the New York Design Center (NYDC.)

I’ve attended this decor limned gathering to learn and report on the many showroom brand introductions, talks, and the inspired, creative juggernaut of materials and products, as well as design concepts and trends.

So you can imagine how thrilled I am this year to be co-hosting an event at the In House Kitchen, Bath, Home showroom!

I’m over the moon to work with the creative forces that make up the In House team of Dave, Leah, and Mary and to share top billing with the extraordinary interior design talent of Toni Sabatino - who recently launched her own Retro Collection line of vanities to great success with the Italian design brand, Baden Haus.

In House’s Dave Burcher told me he’d been waiting for my book, Finishing Touches: The Art of Garnishing the Cocktail to work together again. (We collaborated on the Food of the Future NKBA talk, where I was honored to be a featured speaker).

I am honored to work with this extraordinary team again -- everything they do is top-drawer (had to go for the pun -- In House showcases closets, drawers and cabinets!), quality, and well, just so artful and glamorous.

With those qualities in mind, I choose two cocktails and their food pairings that I think are especially suited to the design motif:
  • Heart of Gold

  • And Sweater Weather cocktail, created by mixologist Jessica Wohlers.

We’re having lots of synergistic fun tying in the twin themes of ingredients, design, and finishing touches embellishments!

I look forward to seeing you September 14, at In House. Thank you In House and Wood-Mode.

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Friday, August 25, 2017

Summer Garden Projects - How to Create & Manage an Exterior Design Project


Now that we’ve witnessed the majesty of the total solar eclipse - we turn our eyes back to the glory of our terroir - our land - our gardens.

No special glasses needed.

Every summer I tackle a home-based garden room project or hardscape design that time and budget allow.

This year, there must’ve been something in the air - and I mean more than those ions swirling - pre-eclipse. Because most of my clients also had some major projects in the queue.

For the month of July especially, we were happily overscheduled; Designing, presenting, installing.

For sheer beauty, for best horticultural practices, and to solve a problem or correct a space flaw. Good garden design offers the single best makeover for a better lifestyle. I just love when my clients text and email me how much they are enjoying their new garden(s) -- how they feel they are in a splendid vacation locale! Nothing beats garden love.

Here then are a few snapshots of garden makeovers -- from concept to completion. I love those HGTV Shows that take the viewer from Yikes to Yesssss! So without too much text -- Pictures are worth a thousand words -- let’s get going with the magic of technology.

Project 1 
Challenge: New patio. Hardscape needs, plus garden beds to soften the look. Careful to not limit egress with garden beds. And produce a new garden under the windows looking out to view and pool.

Before-ish image of patio. Already, the top deck has been removed here. A blank slate.

Here is the interim -- arches are in, stucco going on.

I pick up from here with garden design - here are the before and afters.

This is the artist Jean Galle's rendering that was part of the client presentation. My garden design drawings spring to life with Jean's talent -- allowing the client to readily see the change and design.

Here, the design was to create a series of Pillar Potting Beds

* Five, 3 different sized beds - allowing for egress, conform to pillar and arch metrics and location

* Drainage to channel drain

* Center bed 30 x 24 x 8

* 2 side beds - 30 x 16 x 8 - flush w pillars

* 2 corner beds - angled

Here and below - you see how we laid out the Pillar Planters for size & scale

This is the actual first planting in the new Pillar Planter Beds!

So exciting -- getting there!

Next up was the mason -- our wonderful Irish national mason, Aiden. I had them put in a sleeve for the irrigation hook up later, along with drains in the side window border garden. I asked previous mason, a great Mexican American, who also worked at our home, to put in drainage from the Pillar Planters out to the french drain in the lawn, some distance away. Grading and drainage is key here. The gardens front the bay and the view of the Manhattan skyline beyond. 
Sandy beat up this area rather badly…  Recovery continues in stages...

Window Garden

I wanted to design a 4-season garden that can be enjoyed as a winter garden and not block the view during the summer or warm-weather season. There should also be a plant show element - using perennials for not only low maintainance (even though the Duchess team does the horticultural fine gardening work we need to create a garden bed that doesn’t require fussy care.)  That show part is garden entertainment -- something always in bloom -- lots of color and texture. Good bones.

This is the before. The pavers were removed to allow a garden bed. And like the High Line, not a deep garden bed.

This is the artist's rendering of mixed border to-be:

With the client’s approval - we got to work.

I went with Aiden the mason, to choose the border pavers. I wanted a textured top; nothing too expensive as the plants will swoon over the tops. The gray color will match the pool pavers that will be installed next year -- so thinking ahead.

Needed to take out the weeds and the “dirty” soil that was er, dumped in, following all the construction work. Duchess team put in topsoil blended with horse manure for a rich, bedding environment to welcome the new plants.

Exciting first shot of the new, English Garden bed!

As part of the Garden Design Presentation, offered a number of choices: edible, single plant or mixed border.

Boxwood provides good bones and evergreen look. Together, we decided a mixed border would offer the most bang and joy.

I also wanted plants that provided a pretty look from inside the kitchen windows -- almost a flat top looking down perspective.

Here’s the varied plant list that punched up the color and look and feel of the transitioning outdoor design.

Plant List:

  • Lavender ‘Hidcote Blue’ 12” x 12” summer
  • Salvia ‘Marcus’ 8” purple
  • Aster ‘Happy End’ 3” Pink autumn
  • Achillea ‘Love Parade’ June - Sept. 18-23”
  • Toad Lily Tricyrtis - 30” h x 12” w
  • Gaura- ‘Stratosphere Pink Picotee’ 18-24” May - September
  • Verbena ‘Homestead Purple’ 12-18”
  • Eupatorium ‘Baby Joe’ 2-3’ purple - Autumn - I had to get this -- not only do I love it -- I have the big Joe in my border garden -- but the client’s name is Joe!
  • Hydrangea serrata ‘Tiny Tuff Stuff’ 18-24” x 18” blue to pink - Love this size and color - even in the winter.
  • Delphinium grandiflorum ‘Summer Blues’ 10-12” spring to summer
  • Baptisia ‘Screaming Yellow’ - 2-3’ x 2’ spring/ early summer -- We planted these in the blueberry garden bed for texture and color contrast (love blue and yellow - so French).
  • Liatris ‘Kobold’ 2’ x 12-15”

Everyone was thrilled with the results. 
I just love when the client clasps their chest and repeats, “Oh my gosh. Oh my god!” Over and over. And then takes the time to text how beautiful it all looks and how the family is enjoying. 
Such garden glamour...

Good garden design is hardscape, grading and drainage planning, careful selection of plants -- all with a recognition of lifestyle and personalities.

This is the start of a change in the use and look of the outdoor space. More summer projects to report on.
What projects have you taken on this season?

If you want to make a change in your garden design -- after all, lifestyle changes occur so outdoor needs can grow from a child’s play area with lots of turf to one that boasts more of an outdoor living area with kitchen, sitting areas, and healthy edible gardens.

Tips for creating a garden room

Planting gardens and hardscape construction both require a professional. Whether you ultimately end up with a DIY project, it’s best to get a seasoned pro to offer ideas and design concepts and a suggested budget estimate. Yes, that will cost money - just like you pay an architect or an attorney or other professional for their talent; but at the same time you will benefit in terms of time and budget by bringing in outside counsel.

From there, you can retain the garden designer as a garden coach - helping lead you through the process but with you doing most of the work and labor involved in researching hardscapes and plant choices, shopping the nurseries and quarries, securing soil, mulch, pavers and more for the bones of the landscape space.

Did I mention irrigation and lighting?

And finally there is the installation of the plant material - by season, height, color, texture -- to garner maximum benefit. Knowing plant companions and interactions is knowledge accrued from experience and learning. I myself attend as many lectures and garden tours with horticulturists as my schedule allows. I bring that knowledge to my clients’ projects.

If you choose to have your garden designer carry through the project to completion, you can rely on their design and build expertise -- and follow up for the fine gardening maintenance that will need to be provided. Gardens are dynamic. They require care - even if low maintenance plants are selected. After all, they are living things! And there’s no denying it -- Gardens are an investment. Gardens and good landscape design (vs. “mow, blow, & go” lawn care) add to the value of a home with estimates ranging from a ten to 25% boost to a home’s cost.

And the intrinsic value is well -- priceless...

What luxury and enduring garden glamour….

Friday, August 18, 2017

Total Eclipse Cosmic Cocktails to Celebrate Celestial Canoodling

There’s no doubt that Total Eclipse 2017 is surely helping to eclipse all the ahem, other-worldly happenings that seem to be streaming in from other planets or outer space of late! Oh this is fun writing and researching. So many puns. )Plus a pun is also called a “paronomasia” which in itself seems like a sure-fire paranormal stressful state!)

The good news is that the Total Eclipse is really about art and science coming together. Many folks refer to it as the “sun kissing the moon.” How romantic is that? Not since 1918 have we witnessed such celestial canoodling.

I’ve worshipped the stars and invoked their magic on more occasions than there are stars in the sky (!) -- ever since my beloved father, George, took me to the Hayden Planetarium at the American Museum of Natural History when I was a little girl. There, we purchased an index-sized card that swung open in order to chart four sky maps -- both the winter and summer skies - looking north and south.

I keep it over my writing desk today. It’s as much a tribute to space and my enduring curiosity as it is about my love for my father and his ability to nurture the fascination, imagination, and magic of the stars. As I must confess that the ancient star constellations or asterisms are almost impossible for me to trace. Rather like a parlor game; except that my husband is great at pointing out Aquila (Eagle), Sagittarius (Archer), Leo (Lion) not to mention the easy ones such as the Dippers and the Canis Minor (Little Dog). So much beauty and legend…

There’s no doubt this celestial phenomena is stirring artists and curiosity seekers. Today’s New York Times has a feature about the artist Howard Russell Butler’s exhibit at the Princeton University Art Museum, highlighting the mash up of art and science at the last total solar eclipse. The Times also offers a musical, top-20 Play List to accompany and enhance the sensual elements surrounding the artful eclipse. I like “I Put a Spell on You” by Alice Smith, “Time” by Pink Floyd or Dark Star by the Grateful Dead.
But my favorite site for all things eclipse is Nasa Total Eclipse - especially their suggested party tips and activities and downloadable activities that can spark your viewing experience. Who throws a bigger party than spacemen, er space people?!

Nasa says, “Many eclipse enthusiasts host parties in local community centers, museums, observatories, parks or open fields. Even your own backyard is a good place to throw a party.”

If you’re throwing your own party or bringing celestial treats to another, here’s a few excellent drinks to further the magical darkness...


Total Eclipse -- neė Ashes to Ashes - created by Jordan Bushell, Mőet Hennessy National Brand Ambassador. This is one of master mixologist Jordan’s more brilliant contributions to my soon-to-be-released book, Finishing Touches: The Art of Garnishing the Cocktail (available in presale now.)

I think it’s perfect for toasting the total eclipse, don’t you?

Here’s what it looks like in the book:

And here’s how to make the dark cocktail:

  • 1.5 oz Hennessy VS
  • 1 oz Tawny Port 10 year Old
  • 1/2 tsp activated Charcoal
  • 2 dashes chocolate bitters
  • Garnish – cocktail Cherry (luxardo) and or 1 red rose petal
  • Glass – Rocks

Add all ingredients to a mixing glass with ice. Stir to combine, pour into a rocks glass


With a cherry and/or a rose petal.

From Finishing Touches: Dark and foreboding in look and yet the drinks is full of flavor, Ashes to Ashes was named for the charcoal but also for the end of things for every end is a beginning and this balanced and approachable drink is also deep and contemplative in it’s flavors. You want to sit with it as it begins to warm up in the glass and reveals more and more of itself.

The charcoal does not add any actual flavor and thus is one of the garnishes; if a garnish is not there for the flavor it can still have a purpose, in this case, dramatic effect. We drink and eat with our eyes first, as a drink comes across the room to us, or is handed across the bar we are already imagining different flavors it will have. When a black drink is presented, it creates mystery and thus an open palate. The rose petal and or cherry provide a contrast, bright red, dramatic.

Patrón Platinum Margarita

(photo courtesy of Patrón Tequila)

How beautiful is this cocktail?


  • 2 oz Platinum Patrón Tequila 
  • 1 oz Dolin vermouth Blanc
  • 2 dash rose water 
  • .25 oz agave syrup
  • .5 oz lime juice

Stir all ingredients with ice for 30 seconds then pour in a mixing glass. In a mixing glass add 
1 bar spoon edible platinum color
1 pinch xanthan gum
Stir for 10 seconds pour in your coupe glass.


With an edible orchid using edible silver sprayer marshmallow flavored to coat the orchid.

Heart of Gold - Leeann Lavin


  • 2 jiggers Goldschlager - a Swiss Cinnamon Schnapps Liqueur 
  • 3-4 jiggers cold Ginger Beer - homemade or hand-crafted artisanal, such as Reed’s: sparkling, filtered water sweetened by a blend of cane sugar, pineapple juice, honey, fresh ginger root, lemon & lime juices and spices. 
The cinnamon of the schnapps harmonizes with the spices in the ginger beer.

Put ice cubes in goblet

Mix all ingredients in cocktail shaker

Remove ice from goblet. Pour strained cocktail into iced goblet glass.


Crystallized ginger - highlights ginger beer/ginger root ingredients (or maraschino or orange rind studded with cloves) clipped on glass with gold jewelry pins.

Garnish option

Spun, gold sugar wafers cotton candy on a lollipop stick (can provide recipe)
You can also pour the cocktail into old-fashioned glasses with ice and garnish.

Food Pairing

Posh Pretzels & Piglets

Serve with classic cocktail party, German hot dog-inspired favorites: pigs in a blanket, artisanal pretzels and hearty mustard.

Entertaining Tips

Add glamour to the common beer & pretzel or beer and hot dog. Play off the heart of gold- use mirrors under the goblet glasses to amplify the gold flakes floating in the Goldschlager; create heart-shaped glitter accents.

Sprinkle glitter gold on mirror plates to shine, use gold baskets as serving vessels

Linen napkins with gold embroidered detail add a golden touch.

Silver Blue Moon

Available at Sir Henri in NYC by Beverage Director, Gil Bouhana

Photo courtesy of Nolet’s Dry Gin



Combine in a cocktail shaker with ice, shake and strain into a cocktail glass. 


With lavender* or more traditionally, a brandied cherry.

*My notation: be sure to use English lavender. French lavender is used for beauty products such as soap, while the English lavender is used in food preparation, including cooking and drinks.

Reyka’s Take My Breath Away by Anna Levy Mains

(Photo courtesy of Reyka vodka)


  • 2 parts Reyka Vodka
  • ½ part Dolin blanc vermouth (Dolin is my hands-down favorite vermouth; it is appropriately botanical and delicious.)
  • 1 part cucumber juice 
  • ¼ Lime
  • ¼ part Wasabi simple 

Combine all ingredients into cocktail shaker. Shake, strain

Use a cucumber ribbon and orchid garnish; serve.

*Wasabi simple was 1 oz wasabi powder by volume to 8 oz of simple syrup

Mixologist Mains hails from Oklahoma City’s In the Raw Sushi Bar, Knucks Wheelhouse, and Rockford Cocktail Den.

Hudson Summer Smash

(photo courtesy of Tuthilltown Spirits)



Add apple slices, simple syrup, and two or three mint leaves to shaker tin (or pint glass half of ‘Boston Shaker’) and muddle together. Add Hudson Four Grain Bourbon and ice and shake well. Strain over fresh ice in Old Fashioned/rocks glass and top with splash of ginger ale. Float port (or wine) on top of the drink by pouring carefully over the back of a bar spoon.


With mint sprig.

Free Cosmic Stuff

With more than 750 locations, Pilot Flying J is the latest to get in on the fun.

Guests of Pilot and Flying J Travel Centers can receive a FREE standard size Milky Way candy bar or pack of Eclipse chewing gum when purchasing any beverage in-store (excluding alcohol). This offer is available in the myOffers section of the myPilot mobile app. The solar eclipse promotion is valid for customers in the U.S. from Aug 21 until Aug. 25.