Vanilla or Chocolate? The best of both worlds....

I love to cook, I look forward to the arrival of my Cooking Light magazine each month, and I LOVE Angel Food Cake, mostly because it is always served with my favorite things: berries, ice cream, whipped cream, etc. If you're like me, and can't decide whether you are in the mood for light or decadent when it comes to dessert, this Black and White Angel Food Cake is perfect -- it has both! If you need a visual, just check out the cover of April’s issue. It is surprisingly simple to make, so do not be discouraged by the lengthy list of ingredients. Yum! fls

1 cup cake flour (about 4 ounces)
1 1/2 cups granulated sugar, divided
1/2 teaspoon cream of tartar
1/4 teaspoon salt
12 large egg whites
1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 tablespoons unsweetened dark cocoa (such as Hershey's Special Dark)
1 1/2 cups powdered sugar
2 tablespoons tub light cream cheese, softened
1 tablespoon 1% low-fat milk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
3/4 teaspoon unsweetened dark cocoa (such as Hershey's Special Dark)

Preheat oven to 325°.
To prepare cake, lightly spoon flour into a dry measuring cup; level with a knife. Combine flour and 3/4 cup granulated sugar, stirring with a whisk; set aside.
Place cream of tartar, salt, and egg whites in a large bowl; beat with a mixer at high speed until foamy. Add remaining 3/4 cup granulated sugar, 1 tablespoon at a time, beating until stiff peaks form. Beat in juice and 1/2 teaspoon vanilla. Sift flour mixture over egg white mixture, 1/4 cup at a time; fold in after each addition.
Spoon half of batter into an ungreased 10-inch tube pan, spreading evenly. Break air pockets by cutting through batter with a knife. Sift 2 tablespoons cocoa over remaining batter; fold in. Spoon cocoa batter evenly over top of vanilla batter; break air pockets by cutting through cocoa layer with a knife. Bake at 325° for 55 minutes or until cake springs back when lightly touched. Invert pan; cool completely. Loosen cake from sides of pan using a narrow metal spatula. Invert cake onto a plate.
To prepare glaze, place powdered sugar, cream cheese, milk, and 1 teaspoon vanilla in a medium bowl; beat with a mixer at medium speed until smooth. Drizzle half of glaze over cake.
Add 3/4 teaspoon cocoa to remaining glaze; stir well to combine. Drizzle cocoa glaze over cake. Refrigerate 5 minutes or until glaze is set. Garnish with sliced strawberries, if desired.

Worse than the dentist...

Packing has always been hard for me. In a very exciting turn of events, I have been traveling a lot over the past six months. This is both wonderful (when I travel) and awful (when I have to pack.) This week is going to be a particular challenge because I am going to New York on Thursday for a black tie event, and Miami on Friday for a bachelorette party. (And yes, I know this cool and I have no room to complain.) Because of this, I was particularly interested in Kimberly Cutter's article, "Pack Like a Pro" in the May issue of Harper's-Bazaar Magazine. One tip I already use and find very helpful is the strategy of picking either black or brown accessories and building your wardrobe about that. However, I was wondering if any of you have any ideas for packing, especially with the new regulations regarding liquids. At this point I always end up with a disaster on my hands, and a frazzled outlook before I even reach the airport! - LG

Flower Fridays: Tulips

I love tulips! They are my favorite flowers. Well, my favorites when displayed in a vase (I think they look kind of funny in their natural state outside.) And my favorites but not necessarily for a wedding. And my favorites but not when grouped with more than one kind of other flower.
Ok, well, tulips are in my top five. If you want a simple, elegant arrangement without a lot of fuss, these are always a great choice. I generally like them in very dense arrangements, but they also look pretty when the stems start to bend and they spill out over a vase.

Three fun facts about tulips:
1. Red tulips signify love. Purple tulips signify royalty. Yellow tulips (my favorite) signify either hopeless love or cheerful thoughts. (Hmmm, that is confusing.) White tulips signify either worthiness or forgiveness. Variegated tulips represent beautiful eyes.
2. Tulips continue to grow after they are cut.
3. Tulips are native to Turkey, not the Netherlands.

Now for some pictures. It is amazing to me that these are all tulips, even though they look so different. I have only shown a few, but to find more (you could look for hours) click here. - LG

The Black Parrot Tulip (not my favorite, but apparently Martha Stewart loves it.)

The Baby Doll (a double rather than single bloom.)

The Cilesta (love the colors.)

Sweet Dreams

One of the nicest things you can do for your guests (or yourself) is make sure that all your beds are welcoming and clean smelling. The easiest and most cost effective way to do this is to store soaps between the sheets and towels in your linen closet. However, if you want to get fancy, you can also use sachets. The ones from Hillhouse Naturals Farm in Kentucky are amazing. My mother and I are both very sensitive to fragrance, but these offer just the right touch. Fresh Linen is by far my favorite, but at $2.80 per sachet you can try them all.


Teaorwine referenced an interesting article in The New York Times about so-called "eco-socialites." I am going to refrain from commenting other than to say that I might try the products mentioned and I find the article amusing, so check it out.

Wedding Wednesday: Be Our Guest?

So, our wedding invitations have been in the mail for two weeks now. I couldn’t have been more pleased with the invitations and calligraphy from Reaves Engraving. A friend referred me to them, and they just happened to have a line in the exact slate blue stock that I was looking for – at a fraction of the price of the Vera Wang’s that I had my eye on! Plus, the charming southern accents of the South Carolinians who answer the phone there are enough to make you want to order your invitations from them on the spot.
Getting the response cards in the mail is really the highlight of my mother’s day; each day around 3:30 pm, I get the call with the updates on the RSVPs. About a quarter of our guests have RSVPed so far – with only one regret in the bunch. I had no idea that so many invitees wait til the end of the response period to send their regrets! But, we know how I feel about RSVPing in general.
Anywho... while we are on response cards…I have had many a bride-to-be friend who had to deal with the sticky situation of someone who wasn’t invited with a guest responding with one. Luckily, we have not yet had to cross that bridge, which I have my own opinions on, but I would be interested in hearing how some of you out there handled that awkward scenario…
For anyone who is getting ready to mailing, wedding related or not, don’t forget that postage goes up mid-May!

Coffee Table Reads

Until recently, I thought that coffee table books were incredibly boring and reminiscent of the Great PGA Golf Courses number that my dad liked to repeatedly display on our coffee table and my mother liked to repeatedly remove when I was growing up. Vicious cycle.
Au Contraire these days. I love going into homes and checking out what people have displayed. My personal favorites include Post Secret, which one of my close friends introduced me to a few years back. It is a thought-provoking and interesting collection of art where people mail in their secrets anonymously on one side of a homemade postcard. Since Christmas, we have been displaying Annie Leibovitz's A Photographer's Life: 1990-2005. I will admit that I discovered this book after watching a particularly intriguing Oprah, and it has provided hours of entertainment and discussion, especially during one “Girls’ Night” that I hosted.
What’s on your coffee table?

Extra Touches

My favorite items at Farrell's shower were the custom coasters from My Own Labels. I know there are a ton of these types of services on the web, but this company is helpful because they often don't require a minimum order. They have pretty much anything you might need to make a party more personalized, which is great for non-crafty types. Although the site is geared towards wedding needs, I think it is useful for all types of events. In particular, CD labels with funny pictures could be used for birthdays, anniverseries, get well visits, etc. - LG

Flower Friday: Organic Gardening

Ok, I promise I will actually write about flowers next week. However, Earth Day is still coming up, so I thought I would follow up on that and introduce you all to the idea of organic gardening.

Now, I know that some of you are already landscaping your own homes. Please keep in mind that any chemicals you use are likely to make their way into drains after it rains- and eventually into streams and rivers. That doesn't seem like a big deal until you order fish that has come out of those waters. The Chesapeake Bay Foundation is a bit more graphic:

Stormwater carries a host of contaminants from the land into the water: sediment, phosphorus, nitrogen, toxic metals, herbicides and pesticides, organic material, oil compounds, and bacteria. Roadways, for example, release oil and grease, tailpipe emissions, and other toxics from motor vehicles. Lawns contribute fertilizer and animal waste. Construction sites release quantities of mud.

That is all the preaching I will do. However, next time you want a lush green lawn like your neighbors, think about the crabcakes you had for dinner last night. And then check out this site, Organic Gardening, for ideas. (It also has a lot of good tips for growing your own vegetablesand herbs- great for those of you who cook.)

Reader Request

One of our reader's requested more information about the silver zodiac. So here is it is (again, from The Southern Belle Primer by Maryln Schwartz):
Buttercup. Gorham. Belles who choose Buttercup are always cheerful...Buttercup girls have friends with every kind of pattern. They are usually followers rather than leaders, but they are just so upbeat it really doesn't matter.

Wedding Wednesday: April Showers

So, this past weekend the girls threw me a fabulous bridal shower in DC. It couldn't have been more cute -- it was at the Melting Pot (fun melted cheese AND chocolate and wine of course) and followed a darling pink and chocolate theme (my would-be wedding colors, had the reception venue's heinous carpet not interfered). They thought of every detail, it was great to catch up with everyone, and I couldn't have appreciated it more!
Below are a sampling of shots of the day:

Fondue turned out to be a great way to spice up the usual bridal shower luncheon!
Thanks, girls!

Hippies and Ice Cream and Earth Day

A conversation I recently had with Farrell:

LG: I am going to blog about organic cleaning products for Earth Day.
fls: You know what Earth Day means?
LG: Hippies?
fls: Free Cone Day.

But really, my point is that we should all be seriously considering more environmentally friendly lifestyles. If the theory of global warming doesn't bother you, the possible link between environmental toxins and various health problems (such as cancer , ADHD and the skyrocketing autism rates) should.

Fortunately, natural cleaning products are both effective and pleasant to use. (They have little in common with the smelly bongo player from your 12th grade English class.) These new cleaning products are beneficial in two ways: 1) The person using them is not exposed to potential carcinogens and 2) The resulting wastewater is less harmful to local rivers and streams. Now that I have switched, I hate using standard cleaners.

I am going to highlight a few items this week, so try them out! Every little bit helps...

Todays Selection: Stonewall Kitchen, based in Maine, has a great line of products. I particularly love the Lavendar Mint dish soap. It makes cleanup much more bearable.

Warm Cheese

Lauren and I love cheese. Specifically warm cheese. Most likely in the very refined form of Mexican queso dip. I know, I know – very classy.
A lot of our friends will only eat queso when dining out in, presumably, questionable Mexican establishments. It is actually surprisingly simple to prepare at home, and its great for serving for sporting events, casual gatherings, perhaps a Mexican-themed couples shower, or just for a lazy, cold Sunday afternoon at home on the couch.

1 lb. (16 oz.) VELVEETA Pasteurized Prepared Cheese Product, cubed (yes, I know this is not actually cheese, please reserve judgment)
1 can (10 oz.) RO*TEL Diced Tomatoes & Green Chilies, undrained

Melt and combine the above in a large saucepan until entirely combined and liquid. Serve with tortilla chips, veggies, or crackers.
This can also be prepared in the microwave or in a crockpot, but I prefer stovetop!

There are several fabulous variations on this queso, which we will undoubtedly feature in the near future!

Flower Fridays

I have to admit it: Intern Emily from The Hills made a big impression on me. For those of you who didn't see her first appearance, she really knows her way a florist's shop. And for those of you who have mixed feelings about Intern Emily- you know I am right (about her knowing her way around a florist's shop.) And so I realized three things:
1. If I am ever going to score that super competitive internship with Teen Vogue, I really need to get it together. (This point was emphasized when I was in New York in February having brunch. One of my brunch mates noted that he had just seen Intern Emily, and her boots were "fabulous." Somehow I doubt anyone ever describes me as fabulous on a Sunday morning.)
2. My father is a horticulturalist. I sometimes confuse peonies and hydrangeas, and that is pathetic.
3. Bottom line: I, like many other girls, enjoy receiving flowers. And it is kind of assinine to want something if I can't identify it...

And so I have implemented Flower Fridays. This is meant to be a quick brush-up on everything from identification to meaning. So stay tuned. Next week you may find out that those flowers you ordered for a co-worker are typically used at funerals. (Yeah, I made that mistake last month.) - LG

Zodiac? Which Zodiac?

Everyone knows their sun sign, but do you know where you fall in "The Twelve Patterns of the Southern Silver Zodiac?"
One of my favorite books growing up was The Southern Belle Primer by Maryln Schwartz (Doubleday 1991). To this day I am not 100% sure that this book is satire, but I do know that I still love it.

In my opinion, the best section is about the Southern Silver Zodiac. The premise is that you can tell a lot about someone by their silver pattern choice. Sounds silly, right? Trust me- it is disturbingly accurate. Here are a few samplings straight from the horse's mouth:

Chantilly. Gorham. [One of my college friends chose this pattern. It just so happens that her mother-in-law's pattern is also Chantilly.] Belles with Chantilly tend to be a bit prissy. They do best with men whose mothers also have Chantilly...Don't let all that sweetness fool you. Chantilly girls were often fast in high school.

Burgundy. Reed and Barton. [My current favorite of the twelve, since my inheirited pattern is not featured.] ...Burgundy girls tend to be somewhat shy. They have dreams of being splashy, but they just can't let go...They do well with friends who have Buttercup. They are not made to feel too competitive.

Acorn. Georg Jensen. [My favorite pattern when younger.] Beware of the Acorn girl....Girls who pick Acorn are rebellious. They march in parades and sometimes have been known to go to colleges in the East and drink beer straight from the can.

Check out the book for more information, or write in to find out what your pattern says about you! - LG

Wedding Wednesday: Let them eat cake!

This week we are featuring Groom’s Cakes.
Our personal favorite is the Red-Velvet Armadillo from Steel Magnolias (complete with the gray icing and forceful chopping off of the posterior end), but if that isn’t quite appropriate for your soiree, check these out for inspiration:

University of Virginia Rotunda:

And for the UVA Football Fan:

Can you tell where we spent our college years?

LG & fls

Drive My Car....

So, having grown up in a laid-back beach community, I am not exactly what you would call an aggressive driver. My only traffic altercation came when encouraged by a passenger in the Passat to make an illegal u-turn, resulting in a “warning” ticket. I come from the school of using your turn signal, letting other drivers in, and – perhaps most importantly – the courtesy wave. Upon moving to DC, I came to learn very quickly that not everyone adopted the same train of thought when it comes to operating their vehicles. I thought it was an unwritten rule that if someone lets you in on the highway, or even if you cut them of, you give them a quick flash of the hand as a friendly acknowledgement., but apparently city-drivers missed that lesson in driver’s ed class. I still make a point of implementing the courtesy wave whenever deemed appropriate and today on the Beltway I experienced it from another driver for the first time in months! I was pleasantly surprised at this relative civility on a normally hostile roadway….until I realized that the driver’s license plate indicated that they weren’t even from the DC area. Nevertheless, I am going to continue to wage my campaign to bring the courtesy wave to the roadways nationwide, and encourage you to join!

Black Velvet

This weekend I discovered my new favorite thing- a champagne bar. In the past, I have always been a big fan of the shrimp and grits bar at major functions, but I think I have moved on to a good champagne bar. This one featured Mimosas, Bellinis and and Black Velvets. For those of you not in the know (and I certainly wasn't), a Black Velvet is a 50-50 mix of champagne and Guinness. (Proportions seem to vary- some recipes call for a 3-1 mix.) According to The Guinness Collectors Club, this drink was invented as a mourning beverage after the death of Prince Albert of England in the 19th century. The drink received a thumbs up from the majority of the young men in attendance, and I would venture to say it also received one from many of their wives. After all, a Black Velvet is a bit lighter than a bourbon and Coke. - LG

Escentual Findings...

As a corporate event planner or as a hostess in my own home, I really try to consider all of the five senses before an event starts. I think it is key to make sure that my clients’ or guests’ senses are fully engaged, while not being overwhelmed. Traditionally, the most difficult component to engage is smell, as there is a thin line between a pleasant and inviting smell and something that becomes overpowering and offensive. I find this particularly challenging when entertaining at home – since our metro-DC apartment is SO small. In my experience, candles are the most subtle way to do this.

I have been obsessed with Votivo candles for quite some time now. Not only do they come in unique and refreshing scents, but the distinctive boxes that they come in are just as delightful to display as the candles themselves (Clean Crisp White is chilling in its box on my bookshelf right now). Last week, when I was visiting our wedding florist in Norfolk, I was enthused to learn that Votivo has now come out with a Garden Collection! As someone who frequently misses the tangy smells and relaxing sights of a suburban garden while co-habitating in a city apartment, these are a great vessel for bringing a little bit of the flora and fauna inside! I was particularly drawn to: Fresh Tomato Leaf and Purple Basil and Lime.

A bit pricey as far as scented candles go – the standard size runs between $28-40 at boutiques here in DC – they are well worth the expense, and the compliments you will receive on them are endless!

Wedding Wednesday, Take One

I am a big fan of customer service – GOOD customer service. To me, that makes or breaks any kind of situation, whether you are buying tires or couture, really. So, for our inaugural Wedding Wednesday, I wanted to touch on good customer service when it comes to bridal shops.

In my quest for the perfect wedding dress in the Washington, DC area, I visited quite a few bridal establishments. In my na├»ve mind, all bridal shops should be happy, sparkly meccas of sunshine and love – after all, all of the customers who walk through the doors are there for a joyous occasion. In reality – not so much. My experiences with this in DC ranged from rather pleasant to downright awful.

In the end, I purchased both my gown and my bridesmaids' dresses from Promise…for the Savvy Bride in Bethesda, MD. This boutique is not only uber-convenient for me (and has free parking – woo hoo!), but I have had the most outstanding experience there from start to end. Jessica Fox and her staff not only carry a fabulous selection of gowns and bridesmaids dresses (Carolina Herrera, Carmela Sutera, Jenny Yoo, Claire Pettibone, just to name a few), but their consistently down-to-earth, personable attitude make this chic, funky boutique a breath of fresh air in the sea of stodgy, uptight bridal salons that permeate the DC scene.

I am just one fitting away from the big day, and I have nothing but great things to say about Promise!

Introducing Nacho...

Anyone who knows me knows that I have a dog named Nacho. He is Farrell's god-dog, and he also has many "aunts." Unfortunately, Nacho has an ulcer and a tendency to vomit (a lot) if he doesn't get his Pepcid AC, or if it isn't up to the job that day. He also sheds. (As you can see in the picture, he has a very unique coat- no, that is not a result of static. It is how he looks.) My point is that if anyone has any suggestions for a good stain remover or vacuum cleaner (I know I am getting old because that is what I want for my birthday) I would be very grateful!! - LG

As easy as it gets...

We have recently realized that more and more people we meet are amazed that we make our own spaghetti sauce. Really, it is not hard, consumes little time, and is SUCH a vast improvement over the jarred variety (plus, it doesn't contain high quantities of yucky things like preservatives and high fructose corn syrup). Make a large batch and freeze it in individual servings for quick and easy re-serving with pasta, meats, etc. You will be surprised at how impressive this simple item is to others!
LG & fls

Basic Red Sauce, a la Farrell

1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 onion, finely chopped (I prefer Vadalia if they are available)
2 cloves garlic, chopped
1 carrot, chopped
Kosher salt
Ground black pepper
2 (32-ounce) cans crushed tomatoes (preferred brand: Red Pack)
½ cup tomato paste
5 fresh basil leaves, torn into pieces
2 dried bay leaves (I sometimes omit this depending on my taste)
4 tablespoons butter (unsalted)

Heat oil over medium heat in a large pot. Add onion and garlic and saute until soft -- usually about 2 minutes. Add carrots and season with Kosher salt and pepper. Saute until all the vegetables are tender, usually about 4-6 minutes. Add tomatoes, basil, and bay leaves and simmer covered on low heat for 1 hour or until thick. Remove bay leaves and check for seasoning. If sauce still “needs” something, add butter, 1 tablespoon at a time to taste.

Add half the tomato sauce into the bowl of a food processor. Process until sauce is smooth. Continue same process with the remaining sauce. Stir in ½ cup of tomato paste to thicken.

Return sauce to pot to keep warm until serving time.

The sauce freezes very well. Let it cool all the way, and the portion into large Ziploc bags (I prefer these to Tupperware, as I HATE when red sauce stains Tupperware.). It freezes for up to 8 months successfully.

I frequently like my sauce a little spicy – if you do, too, give your jar of red pepper flakes 2-3 shakes over the pot after the food processing step.


REALLY Basic Red Sauce, a la Lauren

My recipe is very similar to Farrell’s, but a bit more slapdash- the meal I turn to when I am too broke to go out and too lazy to cook. Basically, it will get you by in a pinch.

2 (32-ounze) cans crushed tomatoes (preferred brand: San Marzano)
1-2 cups mushrooms (regular or portabello)

1 small onion, chopped
3 cloves garlic, chopped
Dried basil to taste

1 dried bay leaf

Combine crushed tomatoes, basil and bay leaf in crock pot.

Saute onion and garlic in olive oil (ideally the onion should be transluscent, but sometimes the garlic will burn if you saute it for too long- better to have undercooked onion than burned garlic.) Add onion and garlic to crock pot.

Saute mushrooms until tender. I usually use a lot of mushrooms, as they are filling, but this is really a matter of taste. Add mushrooms to crock pot.

You are done! Let the sauce heat for at least two hours. Serve over pasta with lots of cheese. My mother always left the bay leaf in the sauce, and said it was a sign of good luck for anyone who found it. (This sauce can also be frozen- see Farrell's directions above.)

In my opinion, one of the great things about a basic red sauce is that it is a great way to sneak in your vegetables for the day. Farrell mentions carrots and I mention mushrooms, but you can also add celery, peppers, etc. I have even added spinach and used the sauce for homemade pizzas on a baguette, or to add some interest to a chicken breast. So use your imagination and have fun!