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  • Citrus in Honey Syrup

    I love sweets. LOVE sweets.  I grew up with a grandmother who believed in the healing power of ice cream.  For company, especially around the holidays, I remember the sight of a spice cake sitting on her dining room table.  I can still remember the smell that would fill her house when she had made a cooked caramel icing (a recipe that, 10 years after her passing, I still cannot locate).  My grandfather had an amazing way of making cinnamon toast in the mornings...  the closest I've come to that taste is the cinnamon brioche at Please and Thank You, where a hefty slathering of butter, sugar and cinnamon make your teeth scream but make your tummy so happy.

    Whether it was the influence of her mother's or not, my mom was diagnosed with gestational diabetes when she was 30.  Unfortunately for her, it was not a case that went away after baby, but rather stayed on, and ravaged her body with its associates- kidney disease and eventually failure, bleeding in the eyes, Alzheimers...  It was a sickness that ultimately led to her passing.

    When, several weeks ago, I felt that something in my body and was just off, I sat down with an expert and decided on a month long test of cutting out some of the major food bad guys.  For a month, I went without dairy of any kind, and cut out all refined sugars.  Honey was my savior. Luckily, it seems that allergies and pre-diabetes don't exist here, but I do seem to have a sensitivity to an overload of dairy and refined sugar.  Still, not going overboard after my diet restrictions were lifted was a little difficult, and when my body started fuctioning normally once again, the man and I decided that while whipped cream, a nice pecorino cheese, or a couple of lumps in my coffee weren't terrible on occasion, we needed to make some changes in our eating habits.  My insides- and my rounder-than-it-used-to-be tummy would thank me later.

    Still, I have urges to satisfy.  While I've been pretty proud at my replacing a milky, sugary latte with a plain double espresso, and only taking a bite of the shared dessert we order, I still have cravings for sweet. 

    Enter Citrus in Honey Syrup.

    Beautiful, tasty, and with zero white sugar, this dessert can be perfect on a plate alone, on a beautful flan (if you, like me, aren't watching your dairy intake), dropped into bourbon, or sliced up on a salad.  Simple to make, but with a definite wow factor, these little babies have helped me skip the Italian Creme Cake.

    Peel 8 citrus of your choice with a sharp knife, being sure to remove any pith.  I used navel orages, but blood oranges or grapefruit are just as beautiful, and just as tasty, if not more so.  

    Squeeze any leftover juice out of the peel and into a large saucepan along with the juice of a lemon, 2-3 cups of water, and a quarter cup of local honey, as well as a teaspoon of vanilla, if that's your thing.  

    Bring the mixture to a boil until it begins to thicken just a bit.  Remove from the heat and drop in the fruit.  

    Allow to cool in the pan, then remove fruit into a serving dish with a slotted spoon, and strain syrup over them to remove any lemon seeds or extra pulp. 

    ** I am not a healthcare expert. If you have questions about your diet, please consult a professional **

  • Business Wardrobe- the Capsule

    Read almost any organization blog, or follow any fashion blogger, and chances are you'll hear about this thing called a capsule wardrobe.  Originally coined as a term in London by shop owner Susie Faux, the "capsule wardrobe" idea has grown to be a trendy thing itself, almost defeating the orginal purpose of the concept... 

    I'm getting ahead of myself...  Read Ms. Faux's multi-post breakdown on building a capsule wardrobe here.  A concept she began in the 1970's took quite a few pages for her to explain, but I'll break it down this way: Invest in fewer pieces that are of higher quality so that they last longer, make you happier, and can replace more of what you already own.  If-like me- you're a woman in your 30's, I'm sure you remember your early 20's when Fridays were spent buying 17 pieces at Forever 21 all for under $50.  They were cute, they worked in the club that night, and more than likely, they fell apart in the dryer.  

    Back to my original statement: what we now read about as a capsule wardrobe is anything but.  We're told by multiple sites and articles that these wardrobes can be built by adding in "6 Easy Capsule Staples this Fall!" or "The 4 Pairs of Shorts you Need for your Capsule Wardrobe!" If you're constantly adding, you aren't editing down- that's the idea of a capsule...  Edit down your closet so that it's not bursting at the seams with poor-quality pieces.  Quality over Quantity.  Secondly, once you edit, edit, edit, you'll realize what you're really comfortable in.  You'll discover what works in your day-to-day life, and you'll be more inclined to search for those pieces that you're confident will work with multiple items in your closet, as well as in your work and casual life.  

    While I'm as guilty as any of us when it comes to seeing a killer pair of shoes and clicking "Buy Now," I've made a more conscious effort lately of making sure my drawers and my closet contain pieces that really work for me.  

    I love the idea of a daily uniform (look at Steve Jobs with his turtlenecks and jeans, or Mark Zuckerberg with his t-shirts, Johnny Cash with his all-black suits) for eliminating the stress of the "what do I have to wear" question.  For me? It's cropped black trousers and white or ivory silk shirts.  I've eliminated the need for figuring out what goes with what, and I've whittled down my work wardrobe to a few pair of pants (I love J. Crew's pixie pants and stretch trousers), and an assortment of year-round blouses (Vince, Ann Taylor, and Banana Republic abound). That's not to say I don't have fun pieces- just yesterday, I snagged an animal-print Burberry silk dress- but I do try to focus on what I know works day-to-day, what makes me feel comfortable and confident, and what I know will last.

    Need inspiration to get started on your own overflowing closet? Check out Meg Biram's Life Edit and Wardrobe Pallete articles, the Be More With Less capsule wardrobe guide, and notes from Elite Daily and Forbes on the everyday uniform.

    ** pants, shirt (similar), shoes (similar), sunglasses, earrings**

    ** photography by Kyle Lueken, this post is not sponsored in any way **

  • Setting the Table for July 4th

    I'm fortunate enough to have a cool birthday- the song "Born on the 4th of July" always had meaning in my house, and the holiday birthday has built in me a serious love of fireworks.  Over and over I heard that the entire country celebrates with me.  More often than not, I'd have those checking my ID or asking my birthdate comment on such a celebrated date.  It's been fun, but not without its downfalls.  For instance, I was a summer baby- in grade school, I never had the opportunity to get free cake from the lunch ladies on my special day.  My parents could never help my class throw me a party.  Perhaps worst of all, I could never choose my party theme.  What if I wanted Cinderella or Little Mermaid decorations?  No dice.  It was star spangled everything, whether I wanted it or not.

    Since I've gotten older, I've been lucky to have the freedom to set the table for myself, if you will.  Being one who loves to host, I usually find any excuse I can to plan a party, set the scene.  My idea for a 4th of July tablescape? Keep it simple, keep it fresh, and minimize at least one of the red, white, and blue.

    In our home, I've laid out a white cloth, and all white dishes alongside blue and white striped linen napkins tied with kitchen twine.  A centerpiece of draping green Amaranthus keep the table from looking too plain, and the white blooms of Agapanthus lend a look of a just-burst firework!

    Desserts are simple- individual blueberry-topped cheesecake pies- while a summery blueberry mojito offers a glimpse of pinky-red, thanks to the processed berries. 

    Happy 4th of July, friends!  May your holiday weekend be beautiful!

    Blueberry Mojito

    Blend several blueberries in a food processor or Vitamix (estimate 4 berries per serving), and divide among collins glasses. In each glass, add a wedge of lime, and muddle.  Top with 2 ounces light rum, and 3/4 ounce simple syrup and stir.  Fill glass with ice, 4 more blueberries, and 5 fresh mint sprigs. top with soda water and enjoy!

    ** photos by Kyle Lueken **

  • Bellaire Update

    If you're following along on my Snapchat (@joycekduncan), you've seen that as of today, I have walls in the Bellaire house!

    While the sheetrock still needs to be re-mudded and sanded, I can see the place beginning to take shape.  The deep, blood red walls that were in the dining area and kitchen really make the space so dark- just seeing white walls made the space seem so much larger! The addition of the new drywall also means we can finally move forward with ordering cabinetry, and the disappearance of all the old joists and plaster that were laying in the rear yard means that landscaping can soon begin!

    I've returned to Lowe's to work with one of my favorite Jennifers- a cabinetry designer who's a pro at maximizing storage space and seeing the vision in my head before it goes on paper.  We've decided to stick with a relatively plain door style- the Deveron in a full overlay from Kraftmaid.  In maple hardwood, finished in a deep, cool stain called Slate, these will appear smooth, chic, and pretty modern.  I'm hoping to find a dark, matte countertop. Flooring will be a dark oak, and lighting and accessories will stay black or brass.

    Stay tuned friends.  Huge steps forward in the next couple of weeks!

    ** all photos by Kyle Leuken **

    ** this post is not sponsored in any way **

  • Summer Bedding

    Readers, I'm not sure where you join me from.  Some months, I see several logging in from Chicago, Cleveland, San Franciso, and, for some reason, Brazil, and while I'm sure that our climates don't always mirror each other, I know that some of you- like me- hate to be too warm on summer nights.  

    You may remember me discussing wanting to build my bedding collection.  After much deliberation, and reading review after review, I finally bit the bullet and bought the Venice Linen set from Parachute Home, and haven't looked back!

    Not inexpensive (a fitted sheet, duvet cover, and two pillowcases for a king will set you back $439), but not cheaply made either, the linen is a nice weight, soft, and cool to the touch.  The duvet cover offers ties inside to keep your insert in place and a hidden button closure, the fitted sheet is elasticized all the way around, and all pillowcases have an envelope closure on the rear, which is a nice, clean touch (no exposed pillow edges!).  We bought a leightweight down insert from Target, and, while the lack of a flat sheet took a couple of nights to get used to, I haven't slept this soundly or comfortably during the summer in a few years. 

    Thanks to the weave of the linen and the pale, blush color, my bed now has a casual, comfortable summer feel to it.  The natural texture of the linen makes me think of summer pants, swinging hammocks, and easy breezes, which makes me all too happy to store my not-very-breathable silk quilt and fur throw for the season, and makes me wonder what else I can do to transition my home for summer.  For now, though, before too much more deliberation, I believe I'll lie down for a bit.  Zzzzzzz....

    ** this post is not sponsored in any way **

  • On Home

    There's an inspirational quote making it's rounds on Instagram that says you should be with someone who gives you the same feeling as when you see your food coming in a resturant.  I know that there are people that exsist that don't get that excited over food, but I'm not one of them.  Every time a server whisks my way from the kitchen, I find myself peeping up and over the edge of their tray to see what he's bringing... It's why I'm a little fluffy.  I just love food.  It's comfortable.  I'd like to take that quote a step further...

    You should have that same lit-up lovely feelng when you walk into your house. Every time you walk into your home, you should feel a sense of relief, of comfort, of excitement, not unlike the expectation of your favorite meal.  The smell should be familiar, the temperature set just where you want it to be.  You should have your favorite spot.  Hell, you should have your favorite cocktail ready as soon as you set down (though you may need to discuss this with any living partner, otherwise face having to be your own bartender, which isn't a bad option, either).

    I know that every time I walk into Rye on Market, I can trust the opinion of my favorite bartender on what to eat, to drink, the same way I know that the hashbrown casserole at Toast comes out shaped like an ice cream scoop and that there are sweet potato pancakes in May.  

    I know that when I step in my door every day, the icy blast of my air conditioning will greet me.  The sweet tea scented candle in my foyer will fill the space with a rich, tea leaf scent, with a hint of lemon.  I have my favorite chair, and I've mastered a Ramos Gin Fizz, ice balls smothered in Bourbon, and a French 75. 

    There's a comfort in coming home every day and knowing that- even in the dark- I know where I can drop my bag, where to plop down in my chair. The purple vines in my planters out front guard my door.  The buddha stature my dad brought back from Vietnam greets me when I walk in.  There's a sense of relief, of love, a big, deep breath out.  No matter how good my day has been, there's the thought of, "Thank God I'm home."

    This is the same emotion I look for in my Buyers.  My most recent closing was a couple comprised of an emotional male and the analytical female.  In each home they looked at, the wife was crunching numbers in her head, wondering about resale value, while the husband was imagining outloud where the kids' rooms would go, what sort of cookouts they could host on the deck. Finally, we walked into "the one," and the wife couldn't stop smiling.  She whispered to me about children's rooms, how to organize the kitchen, and decorate the family room.  She felt like she was home.

    This is the reason I love my career... Every time I work with a buyer, I get to see that light flicker on.  I get to see their mind racing as they plan on where to put their favorite chair, or how to display grandma's china.  For me, I lit up when I walked into my house and saw the staircase weaving through the center of the house- that's all it took.  

    When it comes to finding a home, being home, or for feeling that spark of love when you walk in the door, close your eyes and think of what comforts you.  Is it a sunny seating area in your bedroom, or a deep soaking tub?  Perhaps all you need is a covered front porch.  Live where you love, and find a home that makes you light up inside, much like the feeling you get when you know it's your chocolate souffle sweeping out of the kitchen.

  • Tory Burch Garden Party

    Early on in the Spring burst of new clothing and bright, warm-weather ads, I fell in love with the Asilomar dress from Tory Burch's Spring/Summer 2017 collection.  Beautiful and flowy silk georgette, in a light, graphic floral pattern, I jumped at the chance to try this beauty on when I ventured to Chicago in April.  The open shoulders and light material let this dress live up to the name of its pattern: Garden Party.  However, as much as I loved the dress, it just didn't feel like me.  

    Head hung low, I got redressed and ready to exit when I almost accidentally spotted the dress's pattern twin in my favorite tie-neck style, and I was sold! Enter the Tory Burch Kia Bow Neck Blouse

    My closet is full- Full!- of long sleeved white silk blouses.  Puffed sleeves, tie-necks, collarless.... You name it, I have it. Coupled with comfortable black or navy trousers, I've built a capsule wardrobe that makes getting dressed an easy and mindless task. What I didn't have, however, is any sort of fun, feminine pattern, and now that I do, I've found that I crave wearing this thing every day.

    I've found that I do best when wearing this flirty blouse with easy, wide-leg navy trousers and flats.  It's an easy outfit that makes me smile.  Who could ask for more?

    ** blouse, trousers, sandals, glasses **

    ** photos by Kyle Leuken. this post is not sponsored in any way **

  • Starburst

    Almost inevitably, when I see a home that’s been meticulously staged, photographed well, and quickly sold, somewhere inside is a funky starburst mirror. In no way do I believe that these statement-making pieces have a sort of home-selling magic, but I do find that they offer a little taste of glamour and a finished feel, no matter the surrounding decor.

    ** Houzz **

    ** memorable decor **

    ** Crate and Barrel **

    ** Max Azria's home on sukio **

    I’ve found that these little babies- especially of the gold variety- fit into a bright garden-themed sitting area or a seriously formal dining room just as easily as they do on the pages of a Crate and Barrel catalog or in designer Max Azria’s crazy-modern LA home.

    ** not on the high street **

    ** shelterness **

    Whether nestled against a saturated wall color or on an intricate mural, starburst mirrors have a way of standing out, filling in and polishing the space above a headboard, or over a fireplace or sofa.

    These glimmering pieces don’t have to cost a fortune- for affordable options, check out those available at Target and World Market.

    ** this post is not sponsored in any way **

  • Summer Reading

    In 2015, I was introduced to Goodreads.  Some refer to the app and website as Netflix for books, and it really is- suggestions based on what you've read and how you've rated past reads, a peek into what lies on your friends' bookshelves...  I really love their Reading Challenge.  Each year, you can set a goal for yourself on how many books you'd like to finish before year's end, and track your progress along the way.  With statistics from sites like Business Insider and Forbes spouting that the most successful people make a habit of reading daily, I see no reason not to push myself to pick up a book more often than the remote.  

    This summer, I've pinpointed a few books that I want to carry me through the first of September.

    GodPretty in the Tobacco Field, Kim Michele Richardson

    The story of a teen girl who dreams of a bigger life outside of an impovershed Kentucky tobacco farm speaks to me on a couple of levels.  While growing up on a tobacco farm in a small, hard working community, I, too, craved more movement, more noise, more life.  Perhaps its why I escape to cities like New York and Chicago as often as possible.  While I never wanted to leave behind the kinship and green smells of my homeland, I'm curious to see why our protagonist wants to separate from hers. 

    How to be a Heroine, Samantha Ellis

    Part memoir and part Womens Studies class, our author explores how the female writers and characters have shaped her life, her outlook, and her expectations for herself as well as current female leads (imagine Anne of Green Gables next to Amy Poehler's Leslie Knope).  I'm excited about this one, though the ladies featured inside may spark an itch (a neccesity?) to go back and re-read some of the classic, female-led tales I've not touched in several years.

    State of Wonder, Ann Patchett

    After reading Ms. Patchett's Commonwealth last year, and devouring every word, I found myself floating towards her name again while at our local Carmichael's Bookstore last week.  State of Wonder takes us far away from Commonwealth's Virginia hills and places us in the Amazon where a doctor ventures to find out what happened to her colleague there.  Most of the details I've found on story arc are vague, so if you've read this one and have details, please reach out. 

    This is the Story of a Happy Marriage, also Ann Patchett

    Because I loved Commonwealth so much, I grabbed two Ann Patchett works.  This one, This is the Story of a Happy Marriage caught my eye.  Focusing on the marrriages she's had- to a bad love, a good one, marriages to literature, to business ventures, and friends- Patchett remembers the relationships that have shaped her.

    My Grandmother Asked Me to Tell You She's Sorry, Fredrik Backman

    This one was recommended to me by a friend and client last summer, and it's been sitting in my "to read" pile since we got back from Phoenix. The relationship between an odd seven year-old, and her possibly dementia-ridden grandmother is that of two best friends who speak in their own language.  When grandma passes, she leaves behind letters to those she believes she's wronged, and Elsa sets off on an adventure.  A true worshipper of my own grandmother, I'm looking forward to see what sort of love and bond is here, and what sort of tasks Elsa is dealt.

    American Housewife, Helen Ellis

    The cover caught my eye almost a year ago, and NPR's book review piqued my interest, so I finally caved and bought American Housewife.  A dozen short stories whose descriptions read a little demented, "and then they kill a party crasher, carefully stepping around the body to pull cookies out of the oven," I'm a little tentative of reading this Stepford Wife meets Mrs. Voorhees-sounding collection. Most reviews, however, seem positive, and hilarious...  I'm curious to see how this one turns out.

    Happy reading, friends, and please, send any book suggestions this way!

    ** photos by Kyle Leuken **

    ** this post is not sponsored **

  • Pecan and Molasses Bundt Cake

    I love the flavor of molasses. That dark, smokey almost-honey harkens memories of sitting at my grandparents’ breakfast table on Sunday mornings. My grandpa would mix his Sorghum- he pronounced it SARgum- with butter to spread on his breakfast biscuits, and it seemed like the smell would fill the house with it’s richness.

    Few things make me happier than finding dark molasses at the farmer’s market. Last week, when a girlfriend phoned and asked if I could use a jar that she had just received (along with a dozen fresh eggs, the sweet girl), I knew I had to turn it into something wonderful.

    Since the friend who gifted me this jar of goodness is a lover ofhomemade goodies (and often leaves treats of her own at my door), I decided to tackle a recipe from Bon Appetit magazine- a pecan and molasses bundt cake with bourbon glaze.

    I will warn you, for those of you who aren’t adept at caramel or candy making, that the glaze here is essentially a caramel sauce, flavored with whiskey. That being said, please be sure you use a very large pot to make the sauce in. I prefer a cast iron dutch oven, with high sides. Once the baking soda is added to the boiling sauce, it will foam and bubble too rapidly for you to remove it from the stovetop. Be sure to protect yourself from burns, and protect your cooktop from getting covered in burnt-on goo.

    The cake turns out beautifully, with the plain cake layer dense and buttery, and the pecan-mixed layer a deep spicy color. I split the recipe in two and used the Nordic Ware Mini Heritage Bundt Cake Pan- the smaller size is perfect for splitting a traditional recipe, and makes it easy to gift a whole cake while leaving one at home for one’s own pleasure.

    The only alterations I made to the original recipe was to substitute the light molasses with dark, and the dark corn syrup with light, only because that’s what I had on hand. I also used molasses in the glaze rather than corn syrup. Find the original recipe here. Happy baking!