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real life test kitchen: watermelon, feta and charred pepper salad

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The moment I laid my eyes on the July issue of Food & Wine I couldn’t stop thinking about the salad on its cover. I didn’t even know exactly what it was, but I could see some of favorite ingredients — watermelon, feta, black olives — and knew I needed to make it. The occasion was our neighborhood block party, which is usually overflowing with hotdogs, hamburgers, macaroni and cheese and all kinds of yummy but not very light foods. A friend of mine who works at the magazine forwarded me the recipe. I immediately saw that their version called for a few ingredients I would NOT find at our local supermarket, (Gochugaru? Shishito peppers?), so I set about to adapt it slightly. The secret to this salad is a surprising mix of sweet and peppery. I’m happy to say my resulting bowl was a big hit and the leftovers (when mixed with more fresh greens) were just as good the next day. Here’s my take on a watermelon salad with feta and charred peppers.

Watermelon Salad with Feta and Charred Peppers


What You Need:

2 cups of seedless watermelon, cubed into 1-inch pieces
2 cucumbers, peeled and cut into 3/4-inch pieces
1/4 cup very thinly sliced red onion
1 1/2 tbls sherry vinegar
1/2 tsp of crushed red pepper
1/4 cup + 2 tbls extra-virgin olive oil
8 hot chili peppers
1/2 cup of pitted kalamata olives, halved
4 ounces feta, crumbled
1 cup lightly packed watercress leaves, stems removed
2 tbls minced cilantro

How To Make:
1. In a large glass or ceramic baking dish, gently toss the watermelon, cucumbers, red onion, vinegar, crushed red paper and 1/4 cup of the olive oil. Spread in an even layer and season with salt and pepper.
2. In a large skillet, heat the remaining 2 tablespoons of olive oil until hot. Add the whole chili peppers and cook over high heat, tossing, until charred in spots and crisp-tender, about 2 minutes. Cool slightly, then add to salad bowl.
3. Before serving, add olives, feta, watercress, and cilantro. Toss and serve.

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a peek into a prop stylist’s closet

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Ever wonder how those images you see in catalogs always look so wonderful, with just the right mix of accidental treasures next to season’s new collection? Imagine a walk-in-closet, organized with a selection of colorful plates, one-of-kind vases and the most eclectic selection of curios you’ve ever seen. That’s what it looks like inside of Sandy Chilewich’s prop closet. The designer, founder and creative director of Chilewich — our go to source for gorgeous yet practical placements, runners and rugs — Sandy’s studio features floor-to-ceiling shelves filled with objects collected over the years from around the world. When a stylist wants to use something that is too rare or precious to own, they often dip into the vaults of other collector heavens to borrow or rent pieces. Some of Sally’s recent finds, above, came from a small shop in Greenwich Village, called the Porcelain Room. For more of an inside look at the creative process behind Chilewich, check out Sally’s board on Pinterest.

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real life test kitchen: simple baked beans

The weekends that immediately follow Memorial Day are the most social in our little surbatopia hood. Saturdays and Sundays are booked way in advance with backyard BBQs, toddler birthday parties, block parties and yard sales. Many occasions call for a dish to be contributed. One of my go tos: good old, slow cooked baked beans. Guess what will be soaking in our sink tonight? Below, a favorite recipe.

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Few things accompany BBQ as nicely as a side of baked beans, but until recently, I had never attempted to make them myself. Then I spotted this recipe in the June issue of Real Simple and thought I’d give it a go.

The first, most crucial step, is to plan ahead and soak your beans overnight. The recipe calls for navy beans, but I used northern beans (very similar). Then, on the stove, you cook some bacon (secret yum ingredient, that you can skip for vegetarians easily), and an onion. Add beans, molasses, ketchup and dry mustard + 5 cups of water. Stick the pan (use a dutch oven) in the oven and bake at 300F for about three hours. Obviously, this is not a dish to make during a heat wave! The Real Simple recipe called to stir in a splash of cider vinegar before serving. Honestly, I forgot to do that and didn’t miss it all. Next time, I’ll try to remember!

The results were creamy, tangy and just sweet enough (though the beans were not quite as soft and mushy as some may like them). We had plenty to share with our neighbors. Beans, beans, the magical fruit! — Angela M.

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we’re feeling social thanks to jcrew’s new invitations at paperless post

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Sometimes all you need you need to feel like spontaneously hosting a party is a little design inspiration. A new cocktail recipe, deck furniture… or maybe an invitation that is so delightful you can’t help but send it out. That’s the urge we get after seeing JCrew’s witty collection of invitations and cards that “don’t take themselves too seriously” at Paperless Post. Whether it’s a birthday party serving up lots of “cake cake cake cake” or a makeshift pool party or a girl’s night out, you’ll find a card that brings out the chic hostess in you. Hopefully a line of JCrew designed table top items is not far behind (hint, hint,). Visit Paperless Post to see the whole collection, available in digital or print editions.

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how will you survive the cinco de mayo lime shortage?

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Hopefully I am not the first to break it to you, but we are living through a limepocalypse. I first discovered it a few weeks ago when I volunteered to make cocktails at a friend’s birthday party. Inspired by the then current issue of Bon Appetite, I decided to whip up some refreshing Palomas — which is basically tequilla, grapefruit soda and fresh lime juice. I added “a dozen limes” to our shopping list and sent my husband off to the store. Turns out those limes were $1.50 each! The cocktails were enjoyed by all, but the whole time I kept thinking about how much dough was being slurped down those straws. I am happy to report, it was well worth the splurge. A couple of days later I heard a story on NPR about the cause of the price surge: One, a infectious disease effecting citrus plants in North and South America. And secondly, corruption in Mexico’s export business. (See this NYTimes story for more detail.) Suddenly something we take for granted has become a hot commodity. Luckily, the shortage won’t last long. Once the summer crops arrive from other regions, things should level off. But in the meantime, what to do this weekend? What is a Cinco de Mayo fiesta without guacamole and margaritas?

Do you have any non-lime cocktail recipes to share? Please help!

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