March Update (aka One Year In)

It’s hard to believe (and on the other hand, quite easy to believe) that we’ve crossed the one-year mark of Pandemic Life. New routines have been necessarily established, horizons have shrunk and and with them, expectations, which are now sometimes as simple as “Is it cocktail hour yet?” while we await our turn for the freeing arm jab.

True to my procrastinating tendencies, sensing we’re now in the late-stages of the pandemic, I’ve switched into high gear, prodded further not only by the improving weather but also by reading Ann Patchett’s recent paean to getting rid of “stuff” in the New Yorker. Her successes could be my successes (in true American fashion, it did involve a bit of retail therapy at the Container Store) and I am shedding the weight of accumulated things while also organizing, à la Martha, the items that remain. (Perfectionism? Check.)

In this spirit of organizing, I’ve also become obsessed with baskets. I’ve been seeing fantastic baskets everywhere this year, from Howe London’s square and round log baskets, to Maison Bengal’s wonderful assortment in Hogla (seagrass) and jute, to Tara Guerard’s delightful new bicycle basket line, May Cabas, inspired by Parisian market baskets and appealing straight to my romantic visions of being, well,  anywhere-but-here.

Finally, some cures for any twinges of melancholy: I’ve taken comfort in the many vicarious experiences on offer during this year at home. One such example is Stanley Tucci, whose new CNN series Searching for Italy seems tailor-made to the moment, guiding us breezily and warmly through the regions of Italy through food and people. (The CNN website helpfully has put together an index of the places visited for when we all are ready to get there ourselves.)

Another is British floral designer Sarah Statham (@simplybyarrangement at Instagram), who put together an exquisite booklet, The Flower Fettler’s Year, chronicling her past year in flowers. I ordered a copy, and it arrived, beautifully packaged with a set of postcards, wrapped carefully in marbleized paper. (pictured at top) What a treat it was to sit, read, reflect, and realize that though we are very far apart at the moment, we are connected, too.

Here’s to more of those connections as 2021 unfolds.

photo at top by jane potrykus

January again …

shepard baking co sweets | simple pretty

It’s January again. A time for new habits, whether it’s dry-January (truth be told, this is not the year for that), or exercise, or just general self-improvement. Like most of us, I’ve already radically re-jiggered my life thanks to lockdown, and so I view this new year as a time of re-commitment to the re-ordered world.

Here are a few things I’m relying on as we roll into 2021:

  • I am cooking more than ever before … and in order to minimize shopping trips, I need to be more organized than I was in my pre-pandemic “let’s run in and pick up a few things for dinner” life. I’ve found Appointed’s weekly meal planner (a free download +  there is an abundance of elegantly-designed options to choose from) to be an invaluable planning source.
  • I’m also cutting back on sugar after the bacchanal of Christmas, but was delighted to try Shepard Baking Co’s package of meltaways and caramels (pictured at top) over a December pop-up and am hoping to get to the new Wicker Park location of Lost Larson very soon to try their cinnamon roll, with a ham and cheese smørrebrød for balance.
  • What would a new-year’s resolution be without a commitment to exercise? I bought a mini-trampoline back in 2017, but what really got me hooked on the workout was The Ness launching a digital platform right as lockdown started. I’ve followed them on Instagram forever and promise that it’s as fun as it looks, and is a fantastic workout to boot.
  • ‘Tis the season of thank-you’s, but why not start a new tradition and send someone a letter, right now, just because? If you say “but I need new stationery”, may I suggest these adorable Miffy-themed notecards from Papier as an option.
  • Find small ways to celebrate the everyday moments that are passing us by as we wait for the vaccine. I listened to a podcast with Darcy Miller in the run-up to Christmas and was happy to be reminded of her extensive array of ideas and projects to add a little creative fun into our “what day is it” existence.
  • Speaking of podcasts, I’ve recently added Lindsey Tramuta’s “The New Paris”  to my subscription queue … and it’s a great slice of French culture through American eyes.
  • And yes, Instagram. Embarrassed by how much time I spend (waste?) there, but happy to have an outlet to the world beyond my sleepy little town. I’m newly addicted to Museum of Restaurants as it’s led me down so many happy rabbit holes, including two intriguing spots in Berlin, Sofi (pastry!!) and Otto (packaging!!). Wanderlust forever.

photo at top by jane potrykus

Apropos of Nothing

petersham nurseries | simple pretty

Hello … it’s become increasingly apparent that deciding to re-launch this blog does not pair well with a pandemic, especially when said re-launch was to focus on travel, and sharing my favorite spots from cities we had hoped — and planned — to visit. But we’re not going anywhere, and I doubt any of you are rapt waiting for my latest “tree of the day” photo or are hoping that I’ll snap yet another photo of Lake Michigan, in attempt to accurately capture the color it is that day. (Truly, one of the small gifts of the pandemic is that the lake does change color, and that fact alone saves the monotony of a daily walk in never-changing surroundings from becoming Groundhog Day.)

At the same time, I’m still putting together Google maps for all of the cities I plan to visit once this is over*. And I still keep 1,000,000 tabs open in my browser of things I think someone else might like knowing about. So, apropos of nothing, here we go …

  • I’m still wearing lipstick … but getting lazier by the second … so my latest get-ready plan involves wearing Gucci’s “René Pink” tinted lip balm as both lipstick and blush, à la Dick Page.
  • Probably too late to order these for 2020 (unless you’re in the UK), but I think these minimalist foil cards from Keep Collect are perfectly suited for this pandemic year.
  • If I only knew how to knit or had the patience to learn, my first “real” project would be this.
  • Perhaps the loveliest advent calendar I’ve ever seen (and a Vienna shop worth visiting … someday soon).
  • I’ve gone deeper than ever into nature this year … perhaps what has drawn me to Superfolk’s stunning collection of nature-themed artwork.
  • Monocle magazine is launching Konfekt, a female-focused quarterly dedicated to “chic, understated glamour”. I cannot wait for my copy to arrive.
  • Obsessed (obsessed!) with the new Charleston hotel/restaurant Post House Inn. It may hold the top spot on my “When I’m out of here” list. If you’ve solved teleporting, do get in touch.
  • Domenica More Gordon’s magnificent collection of dog-themed bags, on display at (and being auctioned through) Tokyo’s Arts&Science. (The auction ends December 13.)

And finally, though it’s fun — and yes, privileged — to sit and click through links for escapism, there are so many people who need help this year. I hope you will consider finding a local food bank who could surely use a donation … No Kid Hungry is another worthy option. Thank you and cheers to 2021: may it be a better year.

* when you get around to traveling and you wonder if I have a map for your destination, get in touch. London, Paris, Boston, Charleston, Birmingham, Seattle … the list is ever growing.

photo at top of Petersham Nurseries … still my favorite place in the world … hoping to return to the land of prosecco-rose petal cocktails and mistletoe very soon.

Pretty Pandemic Cocktails: To Go

three sheets' french 75 at shop cuvée | simple pretty

three sheets’ french 75

Per my regular media diet, I’ve recently learned that alcohol sales are up 23% during the pandemic. No small wonder, as cocktail hour is one way to mark the passage of time (and dull the stress of surviving another day of “what’s next?”). Though I usually celebrate by having one glass of red wine, any of these pretty pre-packaged cocktails would be a fun way to introduce a bit of fancy into the monotony.

London’s Three Sheets bar (let’s start by acknowledging that they have the best bar name) offers a plethora of gorgeous drinks, with an Instagram account to back it up. Although I’d love ANY of their cocktails, preferably served table-side in London, I am quite eager to try their twist on the French 75, conveniently packaged in a minimalist-design 750ml bottle (enough to share), sold through sister shop Cuvée.

eugene and elizabeth's margarita | simple pretty

eugene and elizabeth’s fresh margarita mix

Based in Atlanta and part of the Hopkins and Co restaurant group, Eugene and Elizabeth’s Fresh Margarita Mix features a whimsically illustrated label, and for those of you are trying to reduce — not increase — your pandemic drinking, I would venture that this would also serve as a fantastic marinade for chicken.

st. agrestis negroni | simple pretty

st. agrestis’ negroni

Two things to know about Negronis: 1. They’re delicious 2. Their bitterness allows you to sip instead of swig, allowing for a slower enjoyment of cocktail hour. Brooklyn’s St. Agrestis has a traditional version for sale by the bottle, and all of the ingredients are Brooklyn-made. (I discovered St. Agrestis while perusing the options available at Hi-Lo Liquor Market in Culver City (CA) after a friend posted a photo at the shop on Instagram.)

ramen-san whisky bar cocktails | simple pretty

ramen-san whisky bar cocktails

As a Chicago(area)an, I feel compelled to include a local option, and Ramen-San Whisky bar, part of the Lettuce Entertain You enterprise, has some very apothecary-esque labeled cocktails available to take away. Each label in the range touts the promise of “Increased ability to work from home”.

w and p design old fashioned | simple pretty

virtual happy hour cocktail kit

W and P Design has long sold Carry-on Cocktail Kits designed to help you recreate your favorite cocktail in the air by assembling the components (save the alcohol) in a nifty travel tin. As non-essential air-travel is on hold, they’ve cleverly pivoted to Virtual Happy Hours. Buy two: one to give, one to save, and add a festive internet get-together to the calendar.

pimm's in a can | simple pretty

pimm’s cup in a can

And finally, I’m tagging Pimm’s in a can as the finale to this lineup because it’s not available in the US, and I wish it were, so I could escape a cold but sunny winter day by cracking open a can and pretending it was summer.

image credits: french 75/shopcuvee.com, margarita/butteryatl.com, ramen-san/leye.com, old-fashioned/wandpdesign.com, pimm’s/tesco.com

Zoe de las Cases: Paris and London

zoé de las cases: london and paris travel guides | simple pretty

I STILL miss travel. I particularly miss London and Paris, and have spent far too much time during this year-of-going-nowhere mooning over shops in those two cities on Instagram. Which is why I was thrilled to discover these two new travel guides from Paris illustrator Zoé de las Cases. (Instagram: @zoedelascases) Each is part coloring book and part travel book, and they perfectly serve either function. Care to spend a day — because you have nothing but time — getting creative and coloring in a page? Get out your pencils and have at it. Would you prefer to spend these slow pandemic months making exhaustive lists of all the places you’re going to visit just as soon as travel is allowed? (Hello, people like me.) These books will more than satisfy that need. I found quite a few new places to discover, and was happy when personal favorites made the books.

The books are harder to find in the US (Hachette really should think about wider distribution) but they are available — shipped internationally — via Amazon. (I bought mine through Amazon.co.uk earlier this summer, and that’s still an option.)

paris travel guide by zoé de las cases | simple pretty

paris excerpt

london travel guide by zoé de las cases | simple pretty

london excerpt

For a deeper, French language dive, Hachette.fr has a video and an article celebrating the launch of these charming books on their website.

book covers via amazon.com (layout by jane potrykus); excerpt photos by jane potrykus