Wednesday, November 18, 2009

{hostess of the week} kerri mich

Hello, everyone! This week's hostess of the week is Kerri, my very oldest friend. Kerri and I met when we were three. Her family moved in across the street from mine, and we were fast friends from the moment she invited me over to play with one of her fabulous Barbie houses. So many of my childhood memories involve Kerri...puppet shows, lemonade stands, walking to school in our matching ponchos crocheted by Kerri's mom. And now we have sons similar ages and our husbands' personalities are so similar it is sometimes spooky!

Kerri's mom is also a killer cook and the original grow your own food lady. Seriously, long before it was chic to have your own backyard vegetable garden, Kerri's mom had one, and after consulting a cookbook from the most ginormous cookbook collection I have ever seen, she'd put something fantastic on the table. Although cooking comes naturally to Kerri, I think her "just do it" spirit is one we all can (and should) embrace!

From Kerri:

Albuquerque, New Mexico is famous for its Balloon Fiesta, the first week of October every year. We like to celebrate by having a balloon breakfast. When else can you have a party at 7 am on a Saturday???

Table: Assorted outdoor patio tables, which no one is sitting at, preferring to stand at the wall to look at the balloons.
Chairs: Assorted outdoor patio chairs.
Lighting: The sunrise!
Favorite table decor: Flowers, candles
Last time you entertained, you served: Breakfast hot dishes, fruit, ham, doughnuts and sweet rolls, lots of coffee and hot chocolate!
How many people were there? About 40 or so, adults and kids. Depends on the weather and which way the wind blows.
Last minute or planned in advance? Advance, via email
Go-to recipe when in a hurry: Pasta Caprese. Basically make Tomato, Mozzarella, and Basil salad and throw it over pasta. Its DELICIOUS when you have home grown tomatoes. We eat it all summer.
Favorite cookbook: My mother is a complete cookbook fanatic (we're talking thousands), and I have received many from her. The last one I used was the Ovens of Brittany cookbook, yum.
Invitations: printed, hand-written or e-mailed? When I plan far enough in advance, printed invitations from hen and barley, of course, but usually I am pulling things together last minute, so phone/email!
Best entertaining tip: Don't stress about having people over, just do it. They'd rather see you and your family than sit home, so don't worry that everything is perfect. And let them bring food too! Usually people like to make a contribution to the event.
When you're not entertaining, what are you doing, professionally and/or personally?
I am a GIS (Geographic Information Systems) Specialist for the Forest Service so basically I make maps and do analysis with spatial data. I have a 2 boys (2 and 3 years old) that keep me busy at home, and a wonderful husband who owns his own company ( making solid hardwood furniture. Mainly beds, but he can make anything!

Monday, November 16, 2009


Happy Monday, everyone! We are so excited to announce our first-ever blog giveaway. If you're like me, you are still in "the holidays are coming" denial, and haven't given an ounce of thought to holiday cards, teacher's gifts, gifts for family...well, anyone, really. But there's no time like the present, and maybe this giveaway will inspire you.

A couple of years ago, we were exhibiting at the Atlanta Gift Market and in the booth behind us was this darling company called Always A Girl's Girl. As we chatted during the show, we realized that we lived just a few blocks from one another in Chicago and had many friends in common. Small world! Always A Girl's Girl designs this very clever conversation confetti, available in a bunch of different themes. Each piece of confetti has a different question that you can use to inspire laughter and conversation during a dinner or cocktail party, and the confetti can be used to decorate your table, too. And it all comes in this cute little tin! Talk about multi-tasking, AND a great reason to give, invite and gather! So, when the girls from Always A Girl's Girl contacted us about doing a joint giveaway, we jumped, and we think you will, too!

Here's the deal. Enter the giveaway one of four ways:

1) Purchase any hen and barley press product by December 5 from one of our online retailers like Paper Concierge, Traylor Papers or EStationeryandgifts

2) Purchase any hen and barley press product by December 5 from one of our brick and mortar retailers and have them notify us of your purchase and desire to be in the giveaway

3) Make a purchase on the Always A Girl's Girl website or on our website

4) Comment here!

The winner, to be announced December 6, will receive 4 boxes of hen and barley press blank folded notes ($50 retail value) and 2 tins of Always A Girl's Girl conversation confetti. You'll receive them in time for the holidays, to use or re-gift with wild abandon.

Friday, November 13, 2009

{hostess of the week} cindy elsman

Phew! It has been crazy busy around here as the holiday orders have started coming in, so our blog went on the back burner for a bit. But we're back with a new hostess of the week, our good friend Cindy Elsman. We've spent many a late night at the Elsman's house and the reason for this, I think, is that
first and foremost the emphasis is always on everyone enjoying themselves. So, while the food is always delicious and the table nicely set, the atmosphere is always easy...not easy as in no effort went into it, but easy as in relaxed and encouraging guests to sit back and enjoy. Cindy reveals some of how she does this below, so enjoy and be inspired!

Table: A dark stained pine table that was Jim's family dining room table while he was growing up. We inherited it when we moved into our first apartment over 16 years ago. I've been wanting to replace it ever since, but it has served us well! It seats 6 comfortably. We can squeeze in 8 with extra chairs from around the house, and when we are having a big group my handy husband Jim puts a large piece of 1/4" plywood with rounded corners on top, and we can easily fit 12.

Chair: 6 ladder back chairs that came with the table.

Lighting: 5 arm wrought iron chandelier. I think it came from Home Depot?

Favorite Table decor: I usually have fresh cut or dried hydrangeas from the garden (super easy and free), then add small candle votives around the table.

Last time you entertained you served: Make your own pizzas.

How many people were there? 7 thirteen year old girls

Last minute or planned in advance? Planned. My daughter, Hannah, planned it all. She did evites, planned the menu and the girls came over and did the rest.

Go-to recipe when in a hurry: Roasted red pepper, sun-dried tomato pasta.

Favorite cookbook: I love all the Barefoot Contessa cookbooks. I also like the magazine Everyday Foods by Martha Stewart. Great recipes, with not a lot of ingredients.

Invitations: printed, hand-written or emailed? I would love to be a planner and use printed invitations but I usually do things last minute or a week in advance so I pick up the phone and call everyone.

Best entertaining tip: I like to serve simple, good food that doesn't take a ton of time to prepare, so I can enjoy the party too! Never make a new recipe for your guests. Try it on your family first.

When you're not entertaining, what are you doing? Running the daily obstacle course of life with my husband Jim, our three kids Hannah, Bennett and Stuart, and housebreaking our new black lab puppy Bear. When I can squeeze in time for myself, I try to get outside as much as possible, read, back and exercise.

Thanks, Cindy!

A note: we jokingly call Cindy's husband Jim "Captain Activity" because he loves to plan an activity in conjunction with a dinner or barbeque. This makes the evening so fun. He'll arrange a round of golf at the local par 3 course for kids and adults, or a few rounds of paddle tennis, and then everyone arrives at the Elsman house hungry and full of funny stories. A game of "celebrities" is a favorite after dinner activity and it is as much fun for the adults as it is for the kids. It reminds me of growing up in the 70s when everyone seemed to play charades at dinner parties. But give "Captain Activity's" ideas a try before your next gathering.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

{gift list}

Halloween is almost over and already the letters are coming home from school about teacher's gifts. Sigh...yes, the holidays are almost upon us. Time to start those gift lists! Our initial folded notes may be just the ticket for you, and as you can see from the above chart, many people we know will be receiving them. Your choice of design, your choice of initial, $13 per box of ten. A flat shipping fee of $6 per address makes it easy to stock up and have them delivered to your doorstep. And how cute would a box of these be peeking from someone's stocking?

Visit our online retailers and to point, click and buy today!

Thursday, October 15, 2009

we're all in this together {part two}

Hello! I promise that our {hostess of the week} feature is coming back soon, but while we're waiting on our friends' photos and answers to arrive in our inbox, I thought another industry discussion might be in order.

My son Charlie is on a swim team. There are about 500 kids on the team, broken into about 10 different levels. Fees for the team and number of practices per week vary by level. At each level, there are some kids who go to every practice and meet they're eligible for, but showing up for a certain number of practices or meets is not mandatory. The kids who go to every practice and meet obviously get more of the coaches' time, even though they don't pay any more in fees than the other kids do. In this sense, the kids who go less often are underwriting some of the costs associated with the kids who go more often. The brilliance of this set up is that it ensures that
whether 3 kids or 30 show up, the lights are on and a coach is present at every practice, and each swimmer can get out of the team as much as they're willing to put into it.

And what does this have to do with the stationery industry, you ask? Well, manufacturers are like the swim team. We need to keep "the lights on and a coach present" so that our retailers have products to sell. Unlike the swim team, however, we can't assess a fee for each retailer we have but instead have to rely upon actual sales. And if retailers across the board are selling less, and sometimes paying later, then how do we keep the proverbial lights on?

We've been talking to a lot of our industry friends as well as entrepreneurs outside of the industry, and the short answer to this question is: get creative. hen and barley press has launched a Trunk Show in A Box concept for the holidays to appeal to retailers who are stepping outside their shops and exhibiting at shopping events like Junior League shows, etc. We've launched virtual albums that allow any retailer to access and sell our personalized products. We've launched a small retail website and partnered with some local not for profits to have them sell our products to help them (and us) raise funds via the site.

All of these things are TOTALLY different from how we would have approached our business just a year ago. None of them are meant to take business from or undermine our retailers in any way. In fact, all of the ideas have one goal: keep the lights on and a coach present so we can continue to sell our products to our retailers. It's that simple. And I would imagine that manufacturers and retailers have this goal in common. For manufacturers and retailers alike to achieve this goal, and come out of this shaky recovery stronger, we all need to get creative. If you're part of this industry, ask yourself how you are addressing the realities (and realities is an important word) of: changing buying habits, both wholesale and retail; changing production methods, both wholesale and retail; changing world?

Clinging to the "rules" as we once knew them seems like such a waste of energy when we must surely all be low on energy...let's face it--things have changed. Period. The realities are: Internet? Here to stay. Online shopping? Here to stay, and yes, even with paper. Printing on demand technology? Here to stay. Stocking less inventory? Here to stay. Selling and buying through mediums other than trade shows? Here to stay.

How about focusing the discourse on how we're going to navigate these changes together? How are you getting creative right now to embrace these realities and still "keep the lights on and a coach present?" Let's hear it!

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

{hostess of the week}: haile mccollum

I am really excited to introduce you to Haile McCollum, owner of the brilliant company Fontaine Maury. If you've seen FM products, you will not be surprised by the style Haile brings to her table. Enjoy!

From Haile: The photo is from Parker's birthday party (he's 5) we were going to have the party outside, but it rained. My kitchen table was not big enough, so we did it in the formal dining room. To dress it down some I tossed on 3 vintage table cloths.

The table: A very formal dining room table that my grandmother bought in Aberdeen, Scotland. She told me that if I married the right person I could have her dining room table! So funny. She did not live to see me married, and my aunt got her table, but I did find this table all crated up in her storage shed (that I cleaned out, it was a big task!) My Aunts let me have to table, so I guess she knows I married the right person!

The chairs: 14 in the dining room given to me by my Aunts to go with the table- but I hate the covering! I keep saying I'm going to print my own on Spoonflower, I just can't seem to get it done.

Lighting: A very modern polished silver fixture from Circa lighting

Favorite table decor: Candles! My husband and I light them almost every night.

Last time I entertained, I served: Pork tenderloin, french rolls a barefoot contessa salad with butternut squash in it. Have to confess, someone else brought the salad!

How many people? 10 grown ups who did not behave like grownups! Stayed until 12:30am!

Last minute or planned in advance? Planned, it was a 41st birthday party for my best friend.

Go-to recipe when in a hurry: White Bean Chicken Chili, so easy! It came off a Progresso can.

Favorite cookbook: I really like the Joy of Cooking for basics, I go to epicurious for more out of the box ideas.

Invitations: printed, hand-written or e-mailed? Usually printed, but sometimes called, and sometimes even texted or facebooked!

Best entertaining tip: If you are at ease, your guests will be too. And don't worry, it's only a party!

When I'm not entertaining, I am: Working on any number of projects for Fontaine Maury and cooking for 2 boys who are the perfect ages, 5 and 2 and my husband. I actually make 2 dinners every night! We have not merged dinner time, but I feel it coming.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

{hostess of the week}: carol cochran

hen and barley press founding partner Carolyn Streett was supposed to be this week's featured hostess, but we're fairly swamped right now AND this fabulous entry from my dear friend Carol came in, so this week's hostess is Carol!

Carol is an amazing cook and hostess. My family and I visited Carol and her family this weekend, and in the time it would take me to make a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, Carol had whipped up tortillas FROM SCRATCH, with yummy beans and rice to go on top. This is a lady who knows her way around the kitchen. But, what I love about Carol and you will gather from her responses, is that she is a great hostess because her greatest pleasure comes from bringing people together and serving them good food. If the house happens to be sparkling clean and the table decorated, all the better, but those things not being the case does not stop Carol from entertaining, and that is why everyone loves a party at Carol's house. Carol is also the most heartfelt do-gooder I know, so many times her entertaining also does double duty as a fundraiser of some kind. Carol lives give, invite, gather to the fullest!

From Carol:

1) Table:
Long old thing (maybe 10' by 4'?). Not round (which I would love), but at least it accommodates a whole team (e.g., basketball, swim) at once.

2) Chairs:
2 benches, 4 kitchen chairs, and as many of our old wooden folding patio chairs from our time in Vietnam as are still functional (maybe 6?) when needed.

3) Lighting:

Hanging black wrought iron chandelier with CFL bulbs, o' course (but warm white ones!). The window & kitchen are also framed with white twinkle lights (LCD -- we like festive but also know we're overconsuming -- oh, the waffling between guilt and celebration!). Yes, it brings to mind folks who never take their Christmas lights down for some. For me, it brings to mind celebration and good times.

4) Favorite table decor:
We love decorating with flowers or greens from the garden in the months when we can (we live in Wisconsin, after all). If we're having a more "formal" (in quotes because we're never TOO formal) dinner we like to add whatever fun or themed things are around to the table -- ribbon napkin holders, candles, water in some presentation and any knick-knacks that fit the theme.

5) Last time you entertained, you served:
Sausages & burgers (again, we're in Wisconsin!)

6) How many people were there?
About 70

7) Last minute or planned in advance?
Planned in advance

8) Go-to recipe when in a hurry:
Salmon linguini with lemon

9) Favorite cookbook:
Any of the "The Beautiful Cookbooks" (e.g., China: The Beautiful Cookbook)

10) Invitations: printed, hand-written or e-mailed?
Usually printed (even if just from my own computer -- though I would love to be organized enough to invite everyone on Hen & Barley Press gear).

11) Best entertaining tip:
Don't you EVER feel like you can't have people
over until your house is cleaned, in full repair, remodeled, etc. People want and even need to gather these days, and we do it less and less -- we're busy, and, oddly, we're hung up on having the perfectly appointed home. I think Martha Stewart has a lot to answer for -- somehow we've reached a state where we're all competing for the perfect home and perfect party. ??? Isn't the whole idea of gathering and celebrating supposed to be stress relief and an escape from the competition -- gathering with friends you know accept you (or should)? And yet now we're going to stress ourselves out -- and then stress our guests out by making them feel they can't measure up to THIS gathering. Craziness. I have received a whole series of backhanded compliments which I treasure from people enjoying themselves at our house. For a small sampling: "I've always told [Husband] that we couldn't have a dinner party because our house wasn't big enough, but I realized after you had us over that if you can do it, anyone can." And, "I always feel like we can't have people over until everything is spotless. But I was sitting in your bathroom realizing that nothing has to be spotless, people just have to be there." (How's that for -- er -- flattery?) And one friend famously stated, upon entering our home for the first time: "I love your house. It is the antithesis of sterile!"

If you have folks over when you've spent your time with your family and preparing food for your friends, they will enjoy themselves, relax, and have a good time. (The ones who are concerned about the spider webs in the bathroom or checking to see if your laundry is folded are ones you don't mind not providing with a great time!) In today's society, setting people at ease and making them feel like you have taken care to prepare something just for them is an almost magical gift. It allows them to relax -- really relax -- and enjoy. A little tip: inviting them on H&BP stationery might actually impress upon them the care and preparation you are taking -- and they might even rsvp to let you know whether or not they can make it! (Non-rsvp-ers are a pet peeve of mine.)

12) When you're not entertaining, what are you doing, professionally and/or personally?
Being the belay person for my family -- Tim (awesome husband), Tatum (16), and Catriona (15). Staying on the ground to try to enable them to soar. Volunteering various places in an effort to thank the universe for our good health and good luck. And just starting to figure out what course I might want to chart for the next stage of my life.

Below is a shot of Carol's table as it usually looks, full of happy, smiling people eating great food: