Swell: A Girl's Guide to the Good Life

( 6 )


Written for girls who want to live the good life, Swell's definition of such a person is a bon vivant, but not a snob. The Swell is witty, wily and very smooth, an original 21st century fox and all in all she's the girl we all want to be.
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Written for girls who want to live the good life, Swell's definition of such a person is a bon vivant, but not a snob. The Swell is witty, wily and very smooth, an original 21st century fox and all in all she's the girl we all want to be.
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Editorial Reviews

For just the right mixture of practical style advice and fizzy ‟lan, pick up Swell: A Girl's Guide to the Good Life by designer Cynthia Rowley and New York Times fashion scribe Ilene Rosenzweig. The cute little pinstriped primer covers everything from the importance of a sexy shoe to selecting the proper caviar, inperspersing amusing tips with helpful guide-lines on how to live life with flair.

Entertainment Weekly

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780762886524
  • Publisher: Grand Central Publishing
  • Publication date: 10/1/1999
  • Pages: 144
  • Product dimensions: 7.52 (w) x 9.28 (h) x 0.52 (d)

Read an Excerpt

Chapter One

There's a reason they call it throwing a party. Things break, you gotta be ready for a few curve balls: caterers who don't show up; unexpected guests who do. And the best bashes have your own special spin. We're not talking about spinning sugar into Eiffel Tower pralines either. Who's got that kind of time?

The parties that really take off are often the ones that come together at the last minute. That's when the best ideas happen—in a flash of inspiration, a burst of spontaneous combustion. Maybe it's a picnic in your apartment. Christmas lights in July. Burnt roast? Skip from salad to three dessert courses. If it "just isn't done," do it anyway. People get caught up in some idea of how things are supposed to be. Forget that. Not enough soup spoons? Let 'em slurp. A party is like theater: intimate, live, anything can happen. That's the thrill of it. The key is to keep the show going at all costs, to see disasters as challenges to your improvisational skills, and gaffes as memorable moments. Besides, what if everything goes right? Your problem will be even worse—a perfect party that swings about as hard as a charity luncheon. Perfection is overrated.

Enter the Imperfect Hostess. She celebrates quirks, takes risks, courts mayhem, and what she lacks in resources and time, she makes up for with ingenuity, her speed-dial, and the Pretty Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval.

Cupcakes on Your Wedding Day

Cynthia: I had the Who all settled, now I had to figure out the Where. We couldn't just have it in some boring hotel where they'd probably already churned out twelve weddingsthat day. We wanted to find a place that was us. Adventure Playland? The Empire State Building! (If only Aunt Agnes didn't have a fear of heights.) A bowling alley? (Bad lighting.) I just wanted to marry the guy—and for our friends to have a good time. Then I thought, City Hall!

Now that might seem kinda conventional, but we customized it. I convinced the mayor's office to let us hang a Cynthia and Bill 4Ever banner from the second floor windows, and Bill's Uncle Jean played the Wedding March on his accordion. Then we took a Checker cab with a Just Married sign out to an airstrip in Brooklyn at Floyd Bennett Field, where Bill's dad used to chopper out on his special cop missions. A forty-thousand-square-foot hangar that hadn't been used since the forties was about as far from a wedding hall as you could get. There were some problems, like no electricity, no plumbing, pigeons in the rafters. But how often do you get to use a DC3 as a centerpiece?

It was a bit rough, but we dressed it up. We handed out boarding cards with seating assignments to the arriving guests. There were no fancy floral arrangements, just tons of sunflowers—they reminded us of Italy, where Bill proposed—in metal garden buckets from the flea markets arranged down the center of a mile-long table covered with a bolt of white cotton fabric. (I hated splitting people up into tables; this was more like one big happy family.) I wrote love poems in Magic Marker down the middle. Each personal touch made it feel more romantic. Even the cake. Have you ever heard that if you sleep with a piece of wedding cake under your pillow, you'll dream of the one you'll marry? Well, neither had I. But when we did, we wanted all our guests to have their own cake, so we stacked the dessert table with a couple hundred cupcakes, each topped with a bride and groom. As for the bouquet, I don't even like carrying a handbag, so I wasn't too eager to be lugging around a bunch of lilies all day and night. I got out of it by putting a small spray in a lipstick tote. Much more important to have my hands free at all times#151; to give my honey a squeeze.


Whether it's a wedding for two hundred or a dinner for two, keep it personal. Mix the traditional with the unconventional, the formal with the informal, the caviar with the deviled eggs. Follow your own tastes even if they don't seem to go together. The modern affair is a freestyle event, and one where you remember more than just whether you had the chicken or the fish.

Jumping New Year's

Ilene: It was New Year's Eve minus twelve hours. No party. I called Cynthia: "Where's the action?" "No action," she said. Nothing like the pressure of a big night to suck the party spirit right out of you. Dressing up, getting stuck in traffic at Times Square, eating a pricey prix-fixe dinner. Who needs it? Not to mention I didn't have a date. Things were looking bleak. And it wasn't getting any earlier.

Time for emergency measures. With no plan A we skipped to plan B. Evacuate the city, head for the hills. Up the river to Cynthia's house. "I've got the grapes, you bring the fish," said Cynthia, "for good luck. And don't forget to wear yellow underwear." It's good luck, too. I hit the specialty shop running: caviar, cremè fraîche, smoked trout and salmon, beet salad, cucumber slaw. Who knew fish could eat such a big hole in your pocket? I'll pay the bills next year! By the time I arrived, with a few friends in tow, it was dark and snowing. No going home that night, "but plenty of good sledding down the driveway," said Cynthia. There being no sled, the pan of Bill's wheelbarrow had to serve as luge. Once inside, our skin on fire with defrost, we broke out the noisemakers, put the champagne on ice in a top hat, and got cozy with a hot fire and the cold supper. For good luck, we each ate twelve grapes and someone threw a bucket of cold water out the window. By 11:00, suitably tipsy, we went around the room and tried to remember the year's brightest moments and darkest hours. At 11:45 all was well when someone yelled: "I want to be in midair at the stroke of midnight." It came from Cynthia, already a blur, hurling parkas and mittens out of the closet. The big hand but an inch from 12:00, we were bundled up again, jogging through the snow, champagne spilling out of the go-cups. But by midnight we made it to the trampoline! Jumping up at the stars. That's what I call living the high life.


Not everything has to be a production planned weeks in advance. "In and out, nobody gets hurt." The last-minute blast is a matter of knowing which corners to cut, how to make do with what you've got. It's all in the packaging.


Take-Out Surprise

The surprise is ... they don't know it's take-out.

Who says having a dinner party means you do all the cooking? Veteran take-out artists know there's no shame in self-catering. Call 1-800-Hot-Hams and have them overnight you a honey-glazed beauty straight from a Virginia smokehouse. Or, decant a few Family Packs of KFC. In the bucket it looks like fast food. But put it in a basket lined with a red-checked cloth and some sprigs of thyme, and your finger-lickin' guests will swear you've been sweating over a fryer since sunup. Let 'em. So long as it looks good and goes down easy. Remember this homey trinity: Keep the lighting low. Garnish. Get rid of the evidence!

The Quick-and-Dirty Dinner Party

Dinner at eight for six, and you're leaving the office at five. Gotta think fast. Speeding home in a manic panic, menus flash through your mind's eye. But there's no time to cook, barely time to shop.

Whip through the grocery like a supermarket sweepstakes contestant: two chickens (nothing's simpler than roast chicken, especially if someone else already did the roasting), a quick stop at the cheese counter for a couple of goat logs, a Sara Lee cheesecake (you'll see), baby carrots and newborn spuds (everything little cooks faster and looks cuter). Pillage the produce section not just for salad but anything pretty that could pass for a garnish. Parsley, mint, rosemary, grapes, berries, pomegranates, baby apples. Overbuy. Don't worry, you're gonna need it.

You're home. The clock is ticking, you've got fifty-nine minutes to make it look like you've been toiling all day. Oven on: 350. Hurl potatoes and carrots into a roasting pan, drizzle with olive oil and plenty of salt and pepper. Go to the goat cheese. Treat like Play-Doh. Flatten two logs, then cut into the shape of a heart and transplant to a plate. If it breaks, don't cry, mush cracks together. Chop cherry tomatoes—or sundried tomatoes if you've got 'em—or anything red, and spread over the top. Get it out to the coffee table pronto.

Oops. Forgot the bread. Search for crackers. Fail to find. Resort to stale loaf of white bread. Cut into triangles. The oven's already on; throw 'em on a cookie sheet for five minutes and voilà;! Wonder Melba Points. Now lose those chicken bags and the Sara Lee box. Uh-oh. Birds look like they died of boredom. Bring back to life with a fistful of rosemary before letting 'em roost with the potatoes and carrots. Just long enough for some herbal aromatherapy. Salad: Waldorf it by chopping walnuts and baby apples (leave one whole on the side of each salad plate). Doorbell rings. Hey! It's only ten to eight. So much for showering and changing. No option but to pretty up with a clean apron, lipstick- -and pearls? Kiss kiss, clink clink. Just when you're starting to get happy, the guests are clamoring for dessert.

Alrighty then. Back to the trenches. You've got one more round of ammo. Sit the Sara Lee on a plate. Rinse a pint of blueberries, empty into a pan. Sprinkle with a teaspoon of sugar. Melt over low flame. Then pour over the cake, letting the blue goo drip down the sides. (Messy looks homemade.) For extra credit: Split the cheesecake horizontally by pulling a piece of dental floss through. Remove the top layer, pour the blue goo on the bottom layer. Replace top layer and cover with another box of berries, uncooked.

When the jaw-dropped guests shout, "You made this?" smile back and remind yourself, "Yeah. I made it good."

Other Fast Fixes

Don't have enough (or any) serving platters ...

With minor cosmetic surgery and well-placed shrubbery, the chipped plate or beat-up cutting board will pinch hit for Wedgwood. A little green goes a long way: line any potential serving tray with overlapping fans of lettuce leaves, a carpet of dill, or a wreath of basil spilling over the edges. Not too neat, or people will be expecting rose-cut tomatoes and origami radishes. Food, like a face, can be scary if it looks too "done."

The frittata broke in half ...

Trim the edges, and present it in two pieces on a bed of parsley with a few daisies planted down the divide.

The chocolate layer cake comes out like the Tower of Pisa ...

Stick a half-moon of sparklers in the sloping side, and—ba-da-bing—a cake they can't refuse.

There's a paw print in the pie ...

Slice the untrampled remainder into eight neat wedges, arrange in a circle, then plop a box of cherries into the middle and let them fill up the gaps.

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Table of Contents

Introduction: What a Life, What a Word! 7
Chapter 1 Break Some Eggs: Enter the imperfect hostess 10
Chapter 2 Say Thank You: Gratitude and gratuities 26
Chapter 3 Love: Go ahead and take a gamble. So what if you lose your shirt? 35
Chapter 4 Get Around: A top-down girl in a hard-top world 50
Chapter 5 Have Fun: Two words a swell should never utter: "I'm bored." 65
Chapter 6 Style: Not just another pretty dress 85
Chapter 7 Be Lucky: When it comes to luck, a swell leaves nothing to chance 97
Chapter 8 Look Pretty: Just because a girl's got a big caboose doesn't mean she can't be a looker 102
Chapter 9 Indulge: What to do when dieting on a first date? Cheat! 114
Conclusion: That's Not All, Folks... 135
Sources 136
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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4.5
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