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  • Royalton Hotel, NYC

    For the first time since I was a teenager, I missed the Kentucky Derby this year.  Yes, you read that correctly.  Instead, the man and I took the long weekend to travel to New York and visit a girlfriend and her husband.  Being Bryan's first visit to the Big Apple, we decided to stay in Midtown, just off Times Square in the hip Royalton Hotel.

    ** The Royalton **

    Originally built in 1898, and designed as a luxury residential residence (there were smaller rooms for the building's servants), The Royalton opened as a hotel in 1988, and was the first Phillipe Starck designed hotel.  A renovation in 2007 gave birth to a dark and moody lobby, resturant and bar, and rooms that held surprises that are unusual for a Manhattan stay- fireplaces, HUGE soaking tubs, disco-ball tile.

    ** the dark and moody lobby **

    ** orchids and a decorative rope wall, photo by me **

    ** lobby bar **

    The bar downstairs acts as the happy hour hot spot for the neighborhood, but the hotel itself is happily nestled on 44th between the hustle of Times Square and Grand Central Station, amisdt all the Ivy League clubs of the city- Yale, Princeton, and Harvard Clubs are just a block away.

    We were lucky enough to snag one of the Superior rooms, complete with soaking tub (where I may or may not have sat one night and eaten real New York cheesecake), and enjoyed a large room with a fireplace and new postcards each day.

    ** guest room **

    ** the greatest soaking tub in the world **

    I do love New York...  It's not Chicago- the pizzas are drastically different- but the constant movement, well-tended parks, and bright lights of Times Square are enough to pull us back again and again.  If our visits take us back to midtown, I'm sure the Royalton will be our first stop.

    ** unless noted, all photograhy via The Royalton **

  • On the Cheese Plate

    It's 5pm, you're headed home from the office, and know that tonight, you're either eating leftover meatloaf or ordering pizza.  All is well with both options, until a girlfriend reaches out and wants to grab a glass of wine, or you remember you're hosting book club, or your boyfriend calls and says he just grabbed a block of your favorite Bourbon-soaked Bellavitano.  Enter the cheese plate.

    If truth be told, this incredibly easy dinner/lunch/snack/appetizer can be pieced together in a matter of just a few minutes, and it seems that- no matter what- a cheese plate turns out to be a beautiful, fully edible work of art.  Over the years, though, I've found that, cheese aside, there are a few elements that simply make the presentation stand out: something green, something in a vessel, something fruity, something nutty, and something beautiful.  

    Something green: Think a small vinagarette-soaked pile of bitter greens, or slices of fresh cucumbers.  Pickles, or blanched asparagus.

    Something in a vessel: This can be anything, and for this purpose, I love these from Williams-Sonoma.  They're the perfect size for honey or olive tampenade, like I've done here.

    Something fruity: Sliced apples, sliced peaches, grapes, dried apricots...  The choices are endless, and something with a little sweetness can offset a salty Parmesean or a stinky blue.

    Something nutty:I love salt and peppered pistachios and fully believe that they can be eaten with anything.  Their funky green color looks beautiful on a wood serving platter, but I'd never complain about walnuts, cashews, or praline pecans.

    Something beautiful: The day of this shoot, I wanted nothing more than to find a small papaya to slice open... I like to have a focal point on my cheese plates, whether it be a steamed artichoke (which may also be a something green), a beautiful bunch of fresh currants, or a halved blood orange.  Something beautiful doesn't always mean something edible- think a block of quartz, fresh florals, or your grandmother's bone-handled cheese knives.  

    All of these elements do not have to be used all at once- there's something to be said for a simple cheddar with crackers on a marble tray- but, when incorprated, they build a phenomenal spread suitable for Thanksgiving's appetizer, or, with meats, oil, and freshly baked bread, can create a beautiful meal for two.  

    If you're local, Murray's at the St. Matthews Kroger carries the aforementioned Bourbon-soaked Bellavitano, and it's amazing.  For this spead, we used it, the Murray's Flagship Ceddar, hard salame, shaved country ham, Blueberry Stilton, walnuts, blanched asparagus with orange zest, apples, pears, honey, olive tampenade, and blood orange.  Simple foods that look- and taste!- beautiful when combined. 

  • Bellaire Inspiration

    One week into my ownership of the house on Bellaire, and the kitchen has been ripped out, and the floors have started to come up (I'm keeping my fingers crossed that I can walk in and see the crawlspace tomorrow!!). As much as I've been looking forward to the much-needed renovation and remodel of this little beauty, I'm now also in a panic becuase there is no turning back!  I'm also in a panic- a much bigger one- because now I have to make decisions regarding the direction we're headed regarding the remodel.

    ** kitchen, at present **

    As much as I want to move forward with navy cabinetry, funky, white-washed floors, and victorian hex tile, I know that this little house still needs to feel like mine- reflect my taste so that, more than anything, it can also serve as a quiet respite for me if I ever need an afternoon breather.  I need to feel comfortable cooking a meal here, plopping down on the sofa or reading a book in the tub, exactly as I would if I were in my own home...  Because truthully, I will be.  

    My hope for this cute little place is that we can use it as a business-ready Airbnb.  With so many walkable resturants and bars at the end of the street, as well as a VERY close proximity to downtown, a one-bedroom home, appointed well and leaving no detail behind would be a perfect spot for the business traveller, or the couple who wants a weekend away in our sweet city.  That being said, it goes without saying that while these folks need a place to stay, they also need a place to sit, a place to brew coffee, and a bed on which to lay.

    Thank the Lawd for Pinterest. 

    Thanks to finding a spread in Rue Magazine featuring a clean, white and chocolate brown home in Toronto, I know exactly the look I'm going for... White walls, bronze and dark wood fixtures, greige and taupe linen with some rich, distressed leather thrown in for good measure.  Moody, moody, moody, but without the black walls and super-saturated colors of my current home.  It'll still feel like me, but it won't feel like I have the same house twice over.  

    ** via RueMag **

    Friends, feel free to follow along on my Instagram, or on my snapchat, @joycekduncan, and for constant brain-storming, check out my Bellaire Project Pinterest board here

  • Bellaire

    Years ago, after years of watching my dad purchase, renovate, and sell homes, I had the itch to begin such a hobby myself. When we stumbled upon the 4th Street mansion in 2009, it was as if Daddy and I had found the world’s greatest cookie jar…. 7,000 square feet of Victorian-era woodwork, 11’ ceilings, plaster walls. We embarked together on turning this abandoned house into a home, and 5 years later, we had succeeded.

    After trying desperately to hang onto my grandmother’s home for several years after she passed, I finally relented and realized that I needed to let go- both of that property as well as my grief of her and my time there. It was a small, 1940’s home, unchanged since then, save for the “new” kitchen that was installed in the ’60’s. Carpet came up, floors were refinished, and the bathroom and kitchen had major facelifts. Another father/daughter project completed.

    In 2014, we found a small farm in Hardin County that had sat vacant for over 5 years. The grape arbors had been so neglected that the vines were almost lost in the shoulder-high weeds. All that remained of the garden were a few stalks of asparagus that had grown to the length of my arm and the girth of a silver dollar. It took several months, but soon, the overgrown shrubbery was trimmed, the basement finished, and the farm back to freshly turned and operational (we even moved our tobacco crop to the fields that year). A large, sweet family bought the property from us to use as a crash pad for out-of-town relatives when they visited.

    When I bought my current home, Daddy bowed out. He believed it was perfect in its current condition, and truthfully, it was. Everything I’ve done here- the complete renovation of the kitchen and powder rooms, refacing the fireplace, laying hardwood- has been for purely aesthetic purposes, and its taken three years to make this place into a structure that really feels like me, that feels like home… Perhaps I needed another project.

    On Monday, I closed on the purchase of a small shotgun house in the walkable, hip, and ever-active Crescent Hill neighborhood. Throughout the process of the purchase, I remained steady. This is business- a decision to invest in something incredible, to perhaps make a little money, and have a second home here in Louisville, if we or ever needed one. Dollars and cents. I had my spreadsheets and my plans for renovation, and a confidence that this will go smoothly and work out. But, then emotion crept in.

    There was a moment, just after closing, when I walked in and became a little teary-eyed. This is the first project I’ve tackled on my own, without my dad to offer advice, opinions, and muscle. This is the first time I’m not asking for his opinions or hearing his singing or laughter over the sound of a drill. This home is mine, and not “mine and Dad’s.” Also mine are any pitfalls and mistakes, and that’s a huge weight, and the cause of a very nervous stomach.

    This baby needs a little work… The foundation needs replacing, the kitchen is just AWFUL, there’s a hole in the floor of the bathroom. There’s wisteria growing in the back yard, but being drowned by some other invasive vines so heavy they’re threatening to pull down a pergola. The floors are warped, the walls and ceilings have been “textured,” so I see a LOT of drywall in my future.

    But, she has potential. I’m trying very hard to focus on getting the place structurally sound before I get too carried away with interior wants, but I promise to keep you posted each step of the way.

    This is my tiny shotgun house. Let’s turn her into something extraordinary.

  • Benedictine

    Benedictine…. Mention it to most people outside the Louisville area and chances are they’ll have no clue what you’re talking about. Here, though? We’re familiar with the rich, somewhat salty, somewhat sweet spread that makes even something as simple as a water cracker or a slice of pumpernickel seem elevated.

    Generally associated with the Kentucky Derby, and showing up on menus everywhere here locally as soon as Winter weather breaks, we’ve been known to keep Tupperware tubs full of it in the kitchen anytime the weather sits above 60. I’m not a fan of the green food coloring or green tobasco that some choose to use in order to achieve a more green sheen, rather, I let the simple ingredients to the talking, and play the flavor adjusting by ear.

    Peel and seed 1 or 2 English Cucumbers, then grate on a box grater.  Peel a small to medum sweet onion (depending on how much you love onions), and grate as well.  Add both to a strainer and squeeze out as much moisture as possible, blotting with paper towels if needed.  

    Combine the shredded veggies with up to 8 ounces of full fat cream cheese, and add a tiny bit of sour cream to make spreadable, if needed.  Add salt to taste.  

    Spread on your favorite food delivery method.  I prefer Carr's Water Wafers, while the man likes the mini Pumperickel loafs.  Top with a sprinking of freshly cracked black or white pepper, if you choose, and if possible, serve on your favorite Kentucky Derby- themed plates to make the simplest of spreads seem a little fancier.  

  • My Mint Julep

    As I type, it's 1am, and I'm propped up in bed in my NYC hotel, stuffed full of greasy, New York-style pizza and cheesecake.  Not my typical Oaks night!!  Still, I can't help but think that tomorrow (or today, if you're an early-Derby-eve-party-pooper-outer) is the Kentucky Derby!  My favorite day of the year, every year, and because I'm missing the live races for the first time since I was a teenager, I can't help that my heart is at home, dreaming of new hats, fast horses, and strong beverages.

    Still, as I mentioned Monday, a real mint julep is not my cup of tea.  I prefer not to have crushed mint floating around in Bourbon-flavored sugar water... Instead, I think I've perfected the julep game by branching off of the Carpetbagger Julep from the now closed Louisville eatery, the St. Charles Exchange.  

    In a julep cup (glass just will not do), rub a stem of mint around the interior, bruising the leaves so that the oil makes an appearance, and the cup smells like fresh mint when you take a whiff of the inside.  

    Prop up a fresh mint stem or two in the cup, along with a sturdy straw (I love these from Crate and Barrel, or these fun striped options), and pack full of nugget ice.

    In a shaker, combine an ounce of Apple Brandy (I just love the version from Huber's Orchard in Indiana), an ounce of good rye (I use Rittenhouse), and a half ounce of simple syrup.  Shake until cold, and pour into your julep cup, piling more nugget ice on top for good measure and good looks, and enjoy!

    Happy Derby, friends! My money is on Thunder Snow and J. Boys Echo.  When the track is sloppy, I always bet the long shots...  Go, baby, go!

  • Derby Essentials

    Once upon a time, the Kentucky Derby was a one-day event.  Those who owned horses, who trained them and who loved them flocked to Churchill for the first Saturday in May, then dispersed.  Over the years, as the Derby grew in popularity, it was the Kentucky Oaks, the day before, that began attracting the locals... Even now, so many that call Louisville home will only go to the track on Friday, opting instead for their living room or a friends deck on Derby Day, and leading to a city-wide closing of schools and local businesses.

    Soon, though, the tourists and the crowds figured out the draw of the Oaks as well, and the track began to flood on Friday, too...  so Thurby became a thing.  On Thursday, we locals would decide to take off work, head to the track, and get our fill of racing before the droves took over.  Great seats cost a fraction of what they would on Derby day, and the payoffs could be just as spectacular.

    Throughout the week, we enjoy Steamboat Races, Mattress Races, parades and parties.  It's almost impossible to accomplish anything work-related (that being said, I have sold a home on Derby day.  In a hat), so we resort to partying, instead. 

    Because it's just short of impossible to go from Fillies Ball to the steamboat race three days at the track (and three nights worth of red carpet events) without feeling at least a little overwhelmed, I've found that there are certain things that keep me going, comfort me, and make this season a little easier.

    ** Derby essentials ** 

    First and foremost- Bourbon.  I'm a purist here.  The only julep I like is a mimic of the now-defunct St. Charles Exhange's Carpetbagger Julep, made with applejack and Rittenhouse Rye.  As for my actual, night-time wind down, I prefer a good-sized pour of Old Forrester over an ice ball in a fancy glass.  It's pure, it's simple, and Old Fo is one bourbon whose flavor really opens up with ice.

    Along my same purist front, it's this week each year that I start making Benedictine spread, the lighter cousin of pimento cheese.  I keep it simple- grated sweet onion, grated English cucumber, and just enough cream cheese and sour cream to keep it held together.  We keep it in a tupperware container in the fridge and have plain Carr's water wafers on hand.  

    ** bourbon balls **

    I'm a fan, too, during Derby season, of Bourbon Balls.  This is where the extravagence happens- Most bourbon balls are a flimsy mass of bourbon mixed with butter and powdered sugar, encased in a hardened chocolate shell.  Not mine.  I grind shortbread cookies, melt chocolate, stir in Bourbon, chill it, form into balls, and roll them into granulated sugar, making a chocolate-y, sparkly treat.

    Seersucker pops up everywhere in this city around April and May...  While the man looks wonderful in it, I've tried a couple dresses and suits in the light, pucker-y material, and it just doesn't do well on my body.  However, I find that little touches of it throughout the house get me excited for the times to come.  My favorite is the green and white seersucker stripe, and the color options on seersucker napkins available from CHOWwithme on etsy are incredible (as are the prices!).

    Finally, friends, a huge suggestion for the ladies in the crowd to survive Derby week: flip flops.  Hear me out...  I hate flip flops, and how beat up they can become as well as how beat up they can make your feet, but after two, three days at the track, walking to and from the car, and to the betting windows in your killer Jimmy Choos, your tootsies are going to need a break.  Invest in a pair of relatively good-looking flip flops- I like the ones from The Gap- and keep them in a sandwich bag in your purse.  At the end of the day, you'll thank me for your lack of blisters!

    Friends, if you're headed to the Kentucky Derby this weekend, have fun, stay safe, and enjoy!  Bet on the long shot, have the extra dessert, celebrate a couple of hours longer, and Go, Baby, Go! 

  • It's That Time of Year

    This time of year, like every typical Louisville female, my mind is on my wardrobe. From girly dresses to bright and feathered hats, I wake up daily feeling like I want to be Mag Wildwood entering a room.

    ** Holly D-D-Darling! **

    Louisvlle- and Lexington, too, truly- offer so many events in the weeks leading up to the Kentucky Derby.  From the Great Steamboat Races to Oaks Day, the Derby itself to the breakfasts and brunches associated with Original Makers Club and Garden & Gun magazine, parties and dinners, and the Sunday morning "hangover brunch," it seems that the idea of just one outfit won't cut it.

    It goes without saying that I've been collecting Derby hats and outfit ideas for years.   I haven't missed a Derby since I was a teenager, and make it to the Chow Wagon (the local carnival food extravaganza on the waterfront) at least once a year to feed my lemon shake-up addiction.  Its truly my favorite time of year, my Christmas, and inevitably, I find a few hours to pull some of my toppers out of the basement and play dress up.

    ** hat from Dee's, Banana Republic dress, J. Crew heels, earrings found on Etsy **

    ** hat from Dee's, David Yurman earrings, Rachel Pally dress **

    ** hat from Dee's, dress from BCBG **

    ** hat from The Hat Girls, David Yurman earrings, dress from Rachel Pally **

    ** hat from Dee's, Banana Republic dress, David Yurman earrings **

  • Dinner at Gemini Chicago

    If you've been following along on my Instagram or Facebook, you'll know that while the man and I were in Chicago last week, we managed to eat our way silly!  From brunch at Hashbrowns and Siena Tavern, afternoon tea at The Allis at Soho House, to family dinner Friday night at Carmine's, we're stuffed!  We did manage to try a few new spots and dishes, but none stood out quite as well as dinner at the newly reopened Gemini in Lincoln Park.

    Nestled on the corner of Lincoln Drive and Dickens Avenue, the Gemini has a beautiful, triangular shape, as evedenced by the photo above.  Black and white awnings top windows on both sides, and the script of the entry sign is as beautiful as one could want.

    And the food!!

    We started with oxtail aglonotti and their parker house style rolls, which were salty, buttery, and perfect. The pasta was so beefy, covered in simple tomatoes and topped with shaved parmesean.  Each piece was hand-rolled.  I had a Kensington- their take on a French 75, including an elderflower vodka, while B enjoyed their Velvet Old Fashioned.

    For his main, he chose his go-to: Steak Frites, which was topped with a bone marrow butter, and I had their special of the evening, a swordfish steak with burre blanc, and we split their more popular side of peas and bacon...  which doesnt sound like much, but imagine still-fresh peas smothered in a leek cream sauce, with both tender cipolini onions and topped in crunchy onion tanglers.  I could have had it as a meal alone!

    For dessert, we split The Chocolate- a pot du creme severd alongside two homemade Oreos.  I'm not usually one for chocolate desserts, but holy hell... This one was delicious (though I'll admit, I didn't get quite as much of it as I wanted...

    We both mused how the feel of this place- the atmosphere, the music, the dishes themselves- reminded us of our favorite hometown spot, Rye on Market.  I know we'll definitely be going back, and next time, we've got our eye on the Duck Confit Nachos.

    Friends, if you're in the Chicagoland area, go check Gemini out.  At least belly up to the bar and grab that aglonotti and a cocktail. You won't be disappointed.

    ** all photos via Gemini's Instagram, and website **

  • Chicago Eats

    Each Chicago trip, we make a point to branch out a bit, try a few places we've never been before.  We test fun cocktails, visit the buzzed-about new hot spot.  We do, however, have our standard, go-to resturants and bars that just lend the feeling of being at home.  We hit the road tonight for a week in our second city, and I can guarantee a few places you can find me...

    ** That time we randomly ran into our clients in Chicago who insisted on taking our photo because it was my 30th Birthday, and we were waiting on pizza at Giordano's **

    In Chicago, you have your pizza spot.  You don't cross borders.  You find the pizza you love the best and you stick with it and fight for it.  Some vote for Lou's, others Pizano's, some Gino's.  For us, it's Giordano's.  There's something about the strings of cheese on the first slice, the crunch of the double crust along the edge.  We may have driven all night, but if we make it before close, we stop.  Have we ordered delivery to the hotel?  Maybe.

    ** Mama's Meatball Salad at Carmine's **

    Part of the Rosebud family of resturants, Carmine's is as old school Italian as it gets.  The man's go-to is a small caprese and Mama's Meatball Salad- two of their house made veal and beef meatballs along side a traditional salad.  Danny, our favorite server, reccomends mixing the two together.  It's hefty, and its a solid meal, despite being a "salad," especially when paired with a generous pour of Oban 18-year Scotch.  The vibe here is incredible- the patio opens during warmer months, offering either heat lamps or an awning, depending on what's needed, and inside, you can catch live music at the bar.  You'll definitely hear a lot of Goodfellas-esque accents, and it's those men that are the most polite.  

    ** Pump Room **

    Pump Room...  What can I say? A legend in it's own right, the Pump Room has been around since 1938, and has maintained a reputation of style, good food, and star watching ever since- Elizabeth Taylor, Mel Brooks, and Bill Murray have graced their plush banquettes.  Originally part of the Ambassador East hotel (the one in Hitchcock's North by Northwest), and now part of Public Chicago (our home away from home), renowned chef Jean-George Vongerichten has taken control of the kitchen, and his dishes are AMAZING...  The fried chicken is incredible, and the sweet pea guacamole is a staple even in our own home.  This is where romantic dates and friendly catch-ups happen.  

    ** Hashbrowns **

    We almost always leave town on Sunday midday.  It allows us time to roll out of bed, pack, and restraighten the room, while our cousin makes his way down to Old Town from Wrigleyville.  And, almost always, we meet up at Hashbrowns on Wells.  A local diner, with great coffee, and an easy menu, it's the perfect place to grab brunch before hitting the road back home.  Their servers are kind, their customers are local, and their sweet potato hashbrowns....  Oh my goodness...

    I'm making myself hungry!

    On the list to visit this trip are The Allis at Soho House as well as Cindy's Rooftop.  The Allis is supposed to have incredible tea time and brunch while the views at Cindy's look amazing!  Farewell, friends.  I'll see you when I wobble myself home.

    ** The Allis at SoHo House **

    ** Cindy's Rooftop **