In which the author tells you how to run your life -- or at least how to make the most of the fun parts of it.

For instance, inside these pages you will learn how to weather a mortar attack in good spirits; how to avoid booking yourself on the Internet into a bed and breakfast full of twee quilts and dusty tchotkes; and how to plan a dinner party that will stun your guests with deliciousness and style and not destroy your will to live with the amount of work you have to do to pull it off.

These are things I know firsthand, and things people who know me often ask me about (though I usually just book them into bed and breakfasts myself -- identifying ruffled death traps is an acquired skill). I am almost always right about everything (food, style and travel-related, anyway, and often many other things) and if everyone would just do as I say, dinner would taste better, cupcakes would not be dry, your parties would be more fun (for you), and mortar attacks... well, they always suck. I can't do anything about them.

*except laundry. I can't manage my own laundry, much less yours.

Search This Blog

Friday, May 27, 2011

Ciara and Jason's wedding: My pitch for Black and white stripe and sunflowers and black-eyed susan and then I will forever hold my peace

The stripe pictures come courtesy of my brand new favorite wedding blog:

seriously look at this:

I should also state unequivoally here that I don't like round tables at weddings because everyone has their backs to everyone else -- each table is self contained. I like me a long table or two. Nothing more wonderful than seeing people sitting like that eating with wine glinting in their glasses. With outdoor chandaliers overhead.


How to Make the Other Best Appetizer Ever and: Crowd-Sourcing a Wedding

Behold the perfect picnic appetizer!

BLT on a Stick!

But let's back up. My friend Jason proposed to my friend Ciara last week in a veeery Washington (I mean this in a good way) manner: through pulling some personal strings, he arranged an exceedingly rare tour of the Capitol dome. That is, up in the dome, next to the frescoes and the windows, and on the balconies around the dome... places most people don't get to see, unless they are a senator. Gorgeous views, rarefied air, and a romantic, on the knee, will you spend the rest of my life with me thing.

The Affianced

Ciara, thank heaven, said yes. This came at the end of a long week of planning. First there was the tour to arrange, then the ring to procure, and then, of course, a surprise (for her) cocktail picnic in the summer house on the grounds of the Capitol for a handful of close friends. That, as you might imagine, was my department. I have long dreamed of being an elf like this -- setting up something gorgeous and wonderful and public. So public that this happened in the middle of it:

A posse of Segway riders came trundling through, lululu. Very strange. Don't you like my dress? it has polka dots. Pay no attention to the foot wear. I was busy and carrying A LOT.

But back to the important part: the best hors d'oeuvre ever: BLT on a stick

1. Get yourself some slab bacon. This is not necessarily an easy task. Whole Foods didn't have it, but Canales Meats in Eastern Market did. I got a pound of unsliced bacon. Took it home, cubed it, then roasted it at about 350 for 30 minutes, till it was crisp.

2. I drained it on a paper bag, then speared an organic grape tomato, some lettuce leaves (baby lambs ear) and cube of bacon. Voila! I made an avocado mayo to go with (pureed ripe avocado, a little lemon and a bit of mayonnaise to smooth things out).

3. I laid it out on a bed of more lamb's ear lettuce. Super hit. Delicious. Make. You can do it while you're watching the Barefoot Contessa on your couch.

Let's see some more pictures, yes, before we get to crowd sourcing their wedding? Because they are getting married in August at her family's home in Rhode Island (yes, there's a sweeping green lawn, shingles and a water view). They figure just get er done so they can go to Sudan or wherever.

Happy Couple

Where the deed was done. In the background! Way up!

The Summer House, a Frederick Law Olmstead folly. Lovely and cool and a little sheltered in case the threatened rain came, which it didn't.

A view of the party

There they are again. It's like it's about THEM or something, instead of my BLTs On a Stick.

The last of my peonies and globe allium, tucked in front of the grotto (above the food, for some decorations).

In case you're wondering I also made FABULOUS dates stuffed with goat cheese and marcona almonds and wrapped in prosciutto. Sweet, salty, soft, crunchy. Yum. a great make ahead nibble.

There was also shrimp in a grapefruit, avocado and serrano salsa (homemade, of course), a smattering of pates and cheese, parmesan palmiers and plenty of champagne.

So now on to the crowd sourcing.

Ciara has NEVER even thought about a wedding, so she and Jason are forming a Tiger Team (its a State Department joke, ha) to plan it (instead of having bridesmaids and groomsmen, they have the TT.)

So: start throwing out ideas!


  • the wedding will be at the end of August in Rhode Island

  • They love love love good food

  • They (I think) want it to be more of a party than a traditional wedding, take off the garter thing (I think)

  • They don't want a nautical theme

  • The rehearsal dinner, however will likely be a crawfish boil/clambake in honor of both their roots.

  • The expect around 120 to 180 and it will be a destination wedding for most people.

Here was my first pass at ideas. You guys throw out your thoughts -- with links to helpful pictures -- in the comments please, and I'll piece them together for a separate post. Jason and Ciara are depending on you! Deploy your best ideas! They are reading!

1. They need to start somewhere -- maybe with the menu they want to serve, and let that dictate style -- or with a color palette, or a flower (sunflowers?). I'm currently pulling for black and white stripes, with sunflowers and black-eyed susans. Or maybe dahlias in orange and hot pink? That would be kind of fun and mad hattery.

2. write the seating chart on a giant chalkboard (made with chalkboard paint). I love chalkboards.

3. write the dinner menu on a chalkboard. I can't get enough chalkboards.

4. serve ginger limeade or lavender lemonade to guests during and before the wedding. It will likely be hot and they will appreciate it.

5. have paper parasols for guests. pashminas if its cool.

6. do guest photos as stop action video -- they pose for stills in front of a set back drop with props -- picture frames, vintage umbrellas, what have you -- photog strings those together at the end as a stop action movie. v cool.

7. use luminarias and lanterns everywhere

8. have a lounge seating area with a fire pit nearby for relaxing during the reception

9. have a good solid cocktail hour with lots to eat. everyone is always starving at weddings

10. convince the caterer they really want to grill dinner on site. chicken? sliced flank steak? whole sides of salmon with fresh salsas? Much better than old meat steaming away somewhere. And lots of room temperature side dishes that take advantage of local produce. great tomato salads, corn salads, grilled veggies. flavored butter (honey? strawberry?) for breads or biscuits.

11. wild flowers in mason jars
12. they are not wedded (ha) to a wedding cake so maybe a dessert table of homespun pies and cakes and cookies?

13. toss lavender blossoms instead of rice

14. have the ice cream truck come by during the reception. Open bar !

15. sparklers make for great pictures

16. they have to have kettle corn. it's a thing for her.

17. set up an old typewriter at a table with a long roll of paper in it for people to type their wedding wishes. pieces together and framed later it will make an awesome piece of meaningful art.

Your turn! Congratulations Ciara and Jason! and thank you for letting me be a wedding elf. SO FUN.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Oh these kids today and their prom invitiations. Also: AWKWARD ROMANCE OF PROM NIGHT STILL LIVES!

SERIOUSLY. My boyfriend's gorgeous daughter was asked to the prom by one of her dear friends (they've come to Life headquarters for dinner a couple of times and these kids are wonderful) and this is how he did it. Daughter is a photographer of extraordinary talent, and her date is apparently some kind of Secret Cake Whisperer. Check it:

Could you DIE? I love the directness, brevity, the cocksureness. Who is going to say no to that? If I get married this kid is making the cake.

As you can imagine I have a hideous prom story to tell. My junior year prom fell the day after an enormous student council convention at which I was running for State President. This would have been an epic coup, completing the dynasty that was the How To Run Your Life family. My brother had been President of the County Association of Student Councils. My sister was President of the District Association of Student Councils (5 counties). I would be president of the state!

Denied. I lost by a single vote, some back door deal between all boys schools. Devastating.

Anyway: I came home exhausted and got ready for my prom. My dress was completely tragic: magenta, one shoulder, giant flower on said shoulder, taffeta. I was not a pretty picture.

AND! I had to go to prom dinner with my older brother -- he lording the County manele over me (not really) and my Brazilian exhcange student. My date was the twin brother of one of my best friends. Not really a love match, and if I recall correctly I totally engineered the invite through his sister. Very Machiavellian. I wanted to go to prom. How wrong I was.

My brother, then 21, my exchange student Edie, my friend and I went to the local fancy f rench restaurant and had an unremarkable meal. Edie couldnt figure out how to eat he onion soup gratinee. My brother tried to order wine and was denied because even though he was legal he was going to a prom. He ordered escargot instead. We ate, left, went to prom. I was depressed all night.

And then on Monday morning, what should pass but a GIANT HEADLINE IN OUR HOMETOWN PAPER, in the Living Section , across the top. "AWKWARD ROMANCE OF PROM NIGHT STILL LIVES" it read.

There was no awkward romance. A brother, sister, neighbor and exchange student. Lord.

A columnist happened to be sitting at the next table, eavesdroping on everything we said... and transcribing it. I was red dress. There was white dress, white tux, black tux (thank god we were all wearing different colors or this could have gotten confusing). Hideous, horrible, totally mortifying and only happens to me.

I skipped senior prom and went to the Rocky Horror Picture Show, but I missed seeing my best friend crowned prom queen :( . After party was fun though.

I've lent my boyfriend's daughter a gorgeous red silk gown, though, so it's kinda like I'll be going to a senior prom after all.

Right? Transitive property of gowns?

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Mount Welby and The Secret

So you know that book The Secret, which says if you visualize what you want, it will come to you? I totally don't buy it because I can promise you there are a bunch of Libyans visualizing not having their houses blown up, and there are many Japanese visualizing having their homes back from the tsunami, and lots of girls in Africa visualizing an end to female genital mutiliation and forced marriage.

But maybe it works for middle-class white American women because check it out. Totally out of the blue, I was invited to spend the weekend at Mount Welby, a gorgeous country house in Virginia that I long ago put on my list of favorite websites. Observe to the right: ---->

Anyway, there I was last weekend, and it's more beautiful than you can imagine. Just... perfect.

The formal garden

Above, the dining room. Below, we made pies!

Irises on the kitchen table

The view from the porch. Tell me you dont want to live here.

The upper deck

Welby the Dog. Enjoys spitty tennis balls.

Run off off the rock wall...

The dining room fireplace.

another view of that chair.

dining room fireplace minus the hipstomatic treatment.

a downstairs bedroom

another downstairs bedroom.

the kitchen table.

5 bedrooms, 5 baths/... available for rent. Check it out. perfect place for a family Thanksgiving.

Thursday, May 12, 2011

OK, the OTHER way to be beautiful for a big night

White eyeliner, just in the corner of the eye. I usually just line the inner 1/4 inch, top and bottom, and smudge it, then apply mascara and/or other liner as planned. It opens up the eye, makes you look awake and well rested... I like the MAC white liner. All the Hollywood girls use it! I guess. I don't know. Anyway, I use it.

(This isn't me)

So the new rules for how to be gorgeous:

1. Lots of water.

2. Lots of sleep.

3. A little white eyeliner.

You're welcome.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

How to Be Beautiful for the Big Night

This applies less to you younger people -- whether you know it or not the mere fact of your youngness imparts a certain beauty (your eyes are brighter, your skin more vibrant, your body more gravity defying). But still: with prom season coming up it's worth a listen.

A few years back I had scheduled a date a week in the future and wanted to look gorgeous to impress the dude. I discussed it with my friend Meg -- what to wear, do I get my hair cut, I needed new makeup -- and she stopped me.

"Honestly, the only thing you can do is drink a lot of water

and get a lot of sleep."

Her very wise point: you pretty much look like you look, even if you spackle on the make up and truss yourself up to the nines. Within an hour of leaving the house, all the artificiality starts to fall apart (if you're me, which I am, with limited patience or interest in checking my lipstick every 10 minutes or powdering my nose. This is not because I am not vain but because I am easily distracted.)

So if you have a big night coming: hydrate and sleep well the week before, then leave it to fate.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

How To Eat Indian Mangoes The Way I Learned in Osama Bin Laden's Third Wife's House in Kabul: NSFW

News peg: Osama bin Laden gunned down in Pakistan.

How To Run Your Life* tie in:

I grew up eating mangoes right off the tree in Florida (Palm Beach County, to be exact. Home of the Hanging Chad). Mango whip, mango fool, raw mango, mango fruit salad... you name it, we ate it. My grandfather had an enormous mango tree and he would pick the fruit, cut it into cubes and surrepticiously stick it in our freezer while my mother and father were at work. It was a surfeit of mangoes and one had to be furtive if one meant to get rid of it all.

You eat a Florida mango by cutting through the skin down either sid of the flat pit, then scoring the flesh and turning the skin inside out. Golden cubes of mango present themselves for easy, if messy, eating.

So I thought I knew mangoes.

Fast forward to 2002. I was in Kabul, staying in Peter Juvenal's guest house near the Interior Ministry. It had previously been the home of Osama Bin Laden's third wife -- until 9/11 and the U.S. invasion, that is. It had a nice apricot tree in the courtyard and was the most comfortable, clean place for foreigners to stay.

I was sitting with a bunch of Brits when the house staff served us these mangoes (unlike any I had seen before). They taught me the proper way to do it. It's a little naughty, as you will see.

These mangoes - I think of them as Indian or Pakistani or Afghan mangoes, but I believe the variety is called Ataulfo (and Whole Foods in DC has a special on them: 10 for $10!) -- are sweet and almost completely fiber-free. So here's what you do.

1. Cut a horizontal line around the mango all the way to the pit, like you might do with an avocado.

2. Gripping one half with each hand, twist the two sides apart.

3. What emerges is phallic. It gets worse.

4. Suck and scrape all the delicious golden flesh off the exposed pit.

5. Then clamp down on the pit with your molars, and twist the remaining half of the mango off the pit.

6. Repeat step 4.

7. Now you should have 2 gorgeous mango cups, ready for a spoon. If you are serving these to guests, do this bit in the kitchen with the doors closed, over the sink. It's messy but delicious. And fairly provocative. (If you want, you can dribble a little honey and lime in each half, or dust their cavity with cayenne pepper. But they are fine as is.)