I don't know about where you are, but here in Chicago, when I'm all geared up for sweater and boot weather, Summer is making a last-ditch effort to hang around. We are also in the final month of renovation.
Let's allow that to sink in a bit, shall we?
We began the renovation on the Chateau in October of 2013. We will finish in October of 2017. Essentially, our house went to college. We are deeply grateful that it shows no interest in graduate school.
We are a little delayed in showing off the 99.9% finished third-floor master suite because of that .1%, but I promise that very soon there will be some good glamour shots coming your way and a room by room recap of what we did up there. But for now, I thought I'd just share a quick pictorial of where we are now with the final phase, the first floor and the stairs.
The first floor is our bonus space. Otherwise known as our "why the heck couldn't you have fallen in love with a two-flat?" space. But because we are who we are, it is giving us an opportunity to create our dream entertaining spot. While a lot of the entertaining we do involves small intimate dinners for 4-6 people, which we can do beautifully and efficiently in our eat-in kitchen, there is still the part of us that loves a big holiday celebration, and a classic old-school cocktail party. Thanksgiving and Passover and New Years Eve. A birthday celebration. We also love to support the not-for-profit world, and while we don't have the means for large philanthropic checks, we do look forward to being able to donate the use of the first floor of our home to those causes as a great location to host small fundraisers. So we have designed this space with all of those things in mind. A large formal living room with plenty of seating and conversation spaces. A large formal dining room that will be able to sit up to 24 people. A bathroom with a library serving as an anteroom for comfort and privacy, as well as a large butler's pantry that can double as a bar, and a small catering kitchen. The large kitchen upstairs and the small kitchen downstairs are linked by the elevator, which will be able to serve as a giant dumbwaiter, and there is a small powder room in the back as well.
We are at drywall on the first floor, so you can really start to feel the space come together!
|This is the kitchen, there will be a stove and hood here eventually...|
|Also kitchen, this wall is where the sink and dishwasher will go.|
|Powder room view from kitchen door.|
|This will be the dining room!|
|View of the south half of the dining room....|
|North wall of the dining room waiting for built-in hutch.|
|View through foyer and vestibule to front door.|
|View up the new stairs...nothing like that first coat of paint to show you where the walls need fixing, |
one step forward, half a step back!
|Elevator foyer off kitchen.|
One of the things that working with these spaces has done is get us excited about the kind of entertaining we will be able to do. I am super excited to host Thanksgiving in the new dining room. We are already planning our New Year's Eve menu, although that may be as much about being ready for 2017 to be over as it is about a party. And we have already planned on our first "donation" event for a holiday party for an organization of which I am a member.
One of the things I love about entertaining is that it is sort of like a muscle you exercise, the more you do it the better you get at it. You have read some of my tips and tricks on this blog over the years, but the one I get more and more invested in is to really be thoughtful about how I begin an evening with my guests. And I have become a big believer in not doing big appetizers before a dinner party. I want my guests to come to the table hungry, and if they are filling up on cheese and crudites and other pre-dinner nibbles, then why did I go to all that trouble to make dinner? (Nothing wrong, by the way, of having a party that is heavy appetizers followed by dessert, if you love all the finger foods, it can be a fun way to entertain!)
I've talked to you before about our favorite pairing of champagne and potato chips as the perfect start to an evening. A little salty snack to complement the bubbles, both designed to whet the appetite without ruining it. But for a lot of people, the start to an evening is more in the cocktail or beer realm, and for those people, let me just say, the best way to go is popcorn.
Those of you who know us know that we are passionate about popcorn. At least a couple nights a week we have salad and large bowls of popcorn for dinner. We use a proprietary blend of yellow, white and mushroom kernels, popped in a pot with peanut oil and sprinkled with sea salt. I think popcorn is a nearly perfect food.
But while that is a great nibble for watching TV, dinner parties need a little elevation in your popcorn game. There are a lot of recipes for herbed popcorn and truffled parmesan popcorn and other fancied up snacks, I've posted one myself. Here in Chicago we have our own famous blending of cheese popcorn with caramel corn, you can certainly start your party there, I love me a salty-sweet combo.
I recently went on vacation and when I returned there was a box from the people at GH Cretors for me to try some of their offerings. Much as I love the corn, how could I refuse?
I will say, while partial to freshly popped, I was pleasantly surprised with the crunch and quality of these popcorn offerings. I probably wouldn't buy the plain salted, since I can make that myself, but the flavored ones were really good! We had friends coming by for cocktails the evening I received the box, so I decided we should open a bag as our snack of choice. And while the cheese flavors would have been an obvious pick, I went for the Dill Pickle flavor instead.
We were all a bit skeptical, but as soon as we started eating this popcorn we became believers. It is the perfect pairing for cocktails. Sort of like a salt and vinegar chip, with the acid and salt well balanced and giving you that little bit of thirst for your drink the way a great bar snack should, but the dill brought something new to the party that none of us was expecting to enjoy as much as we did! We finished the whole bag, and kept saying, "It really tastes like a dill pickle!". As much as I definitely enjoyed both of the cheese flavors and The Mix of cheese and caramel, (I am a Chicago girl after all), of all of these the Dill Pickle will be a new go-to for a quick pre-dinner snack when entertaining, so easy to keep a bag or two in the pantry for a spontaneous happy hour.
Want to try for yourself? GH Cretors has agreed to send one of my lucky readers a sample box of their own, along with an adorable tote bag and even a cool stainless steel water bottle! (I won't tell anyone if you fill the "water bottle" with cocktails for your portable entertaining!)
|What a cool prize!|
|Snacks and drinks to go!|
Comment by 11:59PM Sunday October 1, and winner will be chosen at random and announced Monday October 2!
You can also enter on Twitter, just follow me @staceyballis and retweet the post, Facebook, like the page and comment there, or on Instagram, follow me @stacey.ballis and comment on the popcorn pic there, so you can have up to four entries to win!
Yours in Good Taste,