Summer Spirits

Memorial Day has passed and now it is time for porch music and summer cocktails. Yay! And so here are two good (though somewhat unseasonable) choices for refreshments.

First, we have a reader recommendation. They said that since we feature so much cheese, we should really look into some good wine to go with it. A merlot from Shafer Vineyards was suggested. As a disclaimer, I have not tried it. However, I will probably pick some up next time I am wandering aimlessly around the store.

Next up is a tried and true recipe for Cosmopolitans. Now, I know that Cosmos are a bit dated. I try not to order them in bars any more for fear of being so 2000. However, they are still one of my very favorite drinks, and they are generally featured whenever I get together with friends. Below is a combination that will knock your socks off (is that a suitably old-fashioned phrase?). Seriously- watch out.

Cosmopolitan, from The Bar Guide- Williams-Sonoma

2 fl oz citrus vodka
1 tbsp triple sec
1 tbsp cranberry juice cocktail
1 tbsp fresh lime juic

Pour into a shaker over ice and strain into a glass.

The last time I made these I translated the proportions into pitcher sized portions (it was a wedding shower.) They were fabulous and a good time was had by all. - LG

Wedding Wednesday: The Home Stretch!

So, there are about 2.5 weeks left til our wedding. And honestly, if I hear one more person ask me about “how the planning is going,” I might put all of my strength into socking them in the face.
It’s going.
It’s done.
I am ready for it to be here!
If you want to ask me something that won’t drive me to violence (or heavy drinking), I do enjoy the “what are you most excited about about the wedding” question. Aside from the mashed potato martini bar at cocktail hour and playing “who will be the most intoxicated relative,” I am really most excited to be married. Cheesy, I know, but true. Afterall, that’s what it’s all about, right?
When I am a guest at a wedding, though, I tend to be most excited about the appetizers and the music that is going to be played (and of course the happy couple). It is all about the event experience.
What makes a great wedding for you?

Flower Fridays: Dried Hydrangeas

I hope everyone is gearing up for the big Memorial Day weekend! Farrell and I are thrilled to be getting of town.

In keeping with my tradition of being a complete slacker re: Flower Fridays (and in honor of the coming summer months), I leave you with this article about dried hydrangeas.

Have a fantastic holiday!! - LG

Oil & Vinegar

Recently when I travelled back to Charlottesville, I found the most wonderful shop: Oil & Vinegar. I thought it was local to the area, but it turns out that there are franchises around the world. This store has the most wonderful olive oil, and they will ship their products anywhere. Basically, the shop is full of beaker type contraptions (I don't know any other way of explaining it) containing olive oil that has been infused with herbs, fruits, etc. You can pick a glass bottle (to the left is a picture of my empty bottle), and they fill it with olive oil or vinegar right while you wait. My favorite is garlic infused, but there is also a lemon olive oil that is great for cooking. Anyway, everything is so reasonably priced, and they also have a lot of specialty items, including a surprisingly good green olive mustard. It is fun to play on the website- there is a pretty decent recipe selection. However, if you are ever near one of the stores, definitely stop in- they always have a TON of samples waiting.

Wedding Wednesday: Bridal Confessional

During the wedding planning process, many brides quickly learn that they need someone to turn to vent their frustrations. Sometimes, your friends, fiancées, and family members just can’t handle listening to it anymore. For times like those, my latest discovery (sent to me by a close friend), is fabulous. What better place to let loose than on an anonymous site where you can commiserate (without judgment) with hundreds of brides you have never met – and never will meet? Even if you don’t have anything to post, check it out – it is great for a few laughs!

Toast the Host

Sometimes I feel like the art of hostess gifts is becoming lost in modern society. In my personal quest to revive the tradition of bringing hostess gifts when a guest in someone else's home, whether as a weekend guest or a party-invitee, here are some suggestions on what to bring without breaking the bank:
  • The obvious bouquet of seasonal blooms. Try to avoid the $3.99 carnation mix at the entrance to the supermarket.
  • Wine. A classic hostess gift. I try to put a little thought into it – pick something that you know appeals to your hostess, or something that has a great label ( I saw this in a Charlottesville sandwich shop this weekend and just had to pick it up for an event that my friend is hosting next week).
  • A great candle. We know how I feel about Votivos. Note: Think about if your hostess LIKES scented candles before toting one over.
  • Fun wine-stoppers. Monogrammed ones are great – check out Williams Sonoma and here for options.
  • A small potted plant – these can be found at your local nursery, grocery store, or Trader Joe’s. A simple orchid is very impressive.
  • Fabulous coaster set – I love these.
The key really is to think about what the hostess would like – what fits her personality? You don’t have to spend a lot; it really is the thought that counts.

What does plague me (and some of my friends, I have found out) is – do you write a thank you note for hostess gifts? I love thank you notes, but it does seem rather redundant to thank someone for thanking you. According to Peggy Post, a verbal thank you is enough. I think that a written note is in order only if the gift is above-and-beyond in nature. We would love to hear your feelings on this and any ideas for gifts that you might have!

You must be kidding...

I am very sorry if this seems to be a joke, but I am blogging about cheese...again. By the time this is over, Farrell and I will be able to write a book- 101 Uses for Cheese or something like that.

When it is hot (like it is in Virginia right now), I really want my meals to be simple. One of my favorite light lunches (or dinners) is pimiento cheese. Those of you from the south are probably pretty familiar with pimiento cheese. (For those of you who are not, don't be grossed out by the picture- this stuff is amazing.) I grew up eating pimiento cheese, but didn't really experience it until I moved to Kentucky. For some reason they have the best pimiento cheese in Kentucky. And so, without further ado:

Pimiento Cheese Recipe (from Bluegrass Winners Cookbook-The Garden Club of Lexington- but with comments, directions in my own words)

  • 4 oz. drained pimientos (I like to add some juice to the mix)
  • 1 cup mayo (preferred brand if you don't make your own- Hellman's)
  • 1 tbsp lemon juice
  • 1 tsp hot dry mustard
  • 1/4 tsp cayenne pepper
  • 1/2 tsp worcestershire sauce
  • 1-2 gloves crushed or minced garlic
  • 8 oz. grated (by hand) Colby cheese
  • 8 oz. grated (by hand) cheddar cheese

Combine first seven ingredients in a bowl. Mix with rotary blender. (Guess what? That is an important secret- it makes the pimento cheese fluffy.) Once blended, add cheese and mix some more until slightly lumpy.

And that is it. Enjoy on crackers (the ones with cracked pepper add some more zing) or bread. I have seen some people put it on burgers when they are grilling out. As always, play with the proportions to get the taste you like, and enjoy. - LG

Flower Friday: The Primrose

The Primrose: A symbol of inconsistency

Lazy Post, Lazy Lunch

I swear I could eat this every day for a month straight. It is so simple, but sooooo good.

Artisan Bread
Olive Oil / Balsamic Vinegar Mix
Goat Cheese with herbs

Spread goat cheese over bread
Spoon oil/vinegar mix over slices of bread

Enjoy! Much better than, say, a microwave meal, especially when it is hot.

(I like mine with an ice cold Coca-Cola.) - LG

Wedding Wednesday: Wedded Bliss (Ink)

We all know how much I love all things printed – especially invitations. During our search for the “perfect” beachy Save-the-Date last Fall, I came across Bliss Ink. Not only did they have just what we were looking for – a casual, beachy, but classy product – their design staff is nothing but fabulous to work with. Over the course of the past few months, we have ordered: Save-the-Dates, placecards, thank you notes, menu cards, out of town tags, favor stickers, and post-wedding brunch invitations from them, and everything has been just fabulous. I always love to support a woman-owned operation, especially one that is so accommodating and helpful. They offer an array of pre-fabed designs on their website, but are more than willing to whip up something custom for you at a moment’s notice for a reasonable price.
Check them out for your next print-need – whether it is wedding-related or not!


Entertaining on a Large Scale (from the non-professional)

Farrell plans major corporate events on a daily basis. I, on the other hand, just attended my first one. Here are some observations and what I learned:
  • The Venue: The event I attended was at Cipriani 42nd in New York. It was really beautiful. Beyond just creating a memorable atmosphere, a visually interesting venue has some other perks. Namely, if the event flops (or if people are at a loss for conversation), at least everyone can stand around saying, "Wow, this is an amazing space."
  • The Flowers: NOW I understand why people use tall arrangements. Proportion, proportion, proportion... The table linens were purple, and the jury is still out on that. However, they did complement the flowers nicely, and the planners probably wanted something bold that would not be lost in the ballroom.
  • The Food: I am pretty sure Farrell is going to post about this at a later date, but buffet dinners are very tricky indeed. Often the food is not hot enough. Additionally, everyone is up and down and it makes for difficult conversation. And yes, you can have a wide variety of food, but really sometimes THAT much choice means that everything is mediocre, and nothing is fabulous (and as all men will point out, everyone really just wants shrimp cocktail anyway.) Which leads me to...
  • The Band: Suffice to say that when a band performs everything from At Last by Etta James to Hips Don't Lie by Shakira, there might be problems. Look for a band with a cohesive style that works for them and your event.
  • The Alcohol: The Bellini was featured, and some of you may remember how I love a champagne cocktail. Clearly I enjoyed this aspect of the evening.

In summary, I think the bottom line is that too much variety is risky, no matter what the scale of your party. It can be overwhelming and difficult to manage, both for the guests and the staff. In my opinion, it is better to offer fewer choices, but offer the best and make sure it is executed perfectly. After all, a delicious Bellini, heavy chocolate cake and vaulted ceilings can make any night special. - LG

Say Cheese!

So, we had the fiancée’s parents over yesterday for Mother’s Day. We had a great time planning and preparing the menu. The items I am most proud of are the parmesan “ baskets” we created to serve our first course (Caesar Salad) in. I learned how to make these from a chef that I work with, but they are totally do-able at home….
  • Heat a small nonstick skillet over medium heat. (do NOT spray the skillet – this will ruin the cheese and the basket – trust me, I tried it. The oil will prevent the cheese from hardening).

  • Sprinkle appx ¾ a cup of grated parmesan over the bottom of the skillet. The exact amount you will need depends on the size of the pan – you just need to coat it lightly.

  • Cook cheese until it melts and browns (2-4 minutes).

  • Once the cheese is totally melted, grab the edge of it with tongs and remove from the pan (it should come off in one sheet).

  • Quickly drape “sheet” of cheese over a wide soup can or glass and allow to harden.

  • Once cooled and hardened, gently remove from can, invert on plate, and fill with salad of your choice. Voila!

It makes an edible and impressive addition to any meal! And they are SOOO easy.
Enjoy! fls

Flower Fridays: The Iris

I never really thought about irises until this year, when I received two bouquets that combined irises with another type of flower (see picture to the left). Now that I have done some research, I think that they are extremely underated. And so without further ado (and with a little bit of help from here), five fun facts about irises:

1. Irises can be found on most of the continents and in a wide range of colors.
2. The origin of the word "iris" is the Greek word for "rainbow."
3. The white iris is the inspiration for the fleur-de-lis, the symbol of France.
4. Just as the iris can be found in many colors, it also symbolizes a wide range of sentiments.
5. Irises are extremely hearty and require very little attention from the gardner.

Basically, the iris is extremely versatile. Because of its good looks and rich history it can stand on alone. However, it is simple and low-maintenance enough to be the perfect filler. - LG

Weekend Reading

Is anyone else obsessed with lifestyle books? A few years ago, I would always run out and buy a new one if I had any extra money. To date, my favorites are:

1. Entre Nous by Debra Ollivier
2. The Martini Diet by Jennifer Sander

If you have run out of chick-lit to read, or if you are just tired of it, pick up one of these next time you are in the bookstore. - LG

* Flower Friday to follow this evening.

Wedding Wednesday: HOW long?!?

According to Emily Post’s Wedding Etiquette, the average length of a modern-day engagement is 14 months. As I am nearing the 11th month of our engagement, and am just about four weeks from the wedding, I recently started to reflect on what a “good” period of time to be engaged actually is. Clearly the length of your engagement is a very personal choice – sometimes dictated simply by the availability of venues and vendors, other times by personal circumstances. For me and my fiancée, 12 months has been just long enough to enjoy the fun parts of being engaged – the parties, the registering, the tastings, the reviewing of countless bad band demos – while not being negatively overwhelmed by the not-so-fun details – hotel blocks, invitation lists, program verbiage, getting 10 groomsmen to successfully get measured for tuxedos.

But, like I said, it totally varies from couple to couple. Some prefer to do it as quickly as possible, make quick decisions, and get the show on the road. Others like to take their time, weigh every option and visit 17 venues before deciding on the perfect one.

So - how long do you think is a good engagement period? We’d love to hear your thoughts….

I ruined cheese...

I decided tonight that I should mail cheese straws to New York. I worked on them for 90 minutes (after my tipping post) and...disaster. Now I understand why Ina Garten and Paula Dean use puff pastry. Never again. I am sad. Not only did I ruin a perfectly good block of cheese, I also missed Sex and the City on TBS. (Please reserve judgement.) Sigh. -LG

***Update: The cheese straws are much better after being refrigerated overnight. In addition, Nacho likes them, so I guess not all is lost.

Tipping the Scales

I have realized recently that I am a little bit clueless about tipping. Because of this, I end up over tipping in order to err on the safe side. I started re-thinking this policy when more than one cab driver stared and stuttered when I told him to keep the change. (Maaaybe I gave a 50% tip over Easter weekend because I was excited about flying out of LaGuardia rather than JFK. Some of you may understand this.) And so here is a refresher course:
  • For your Hairdresser: 15% (I normally give 20% and will continue to do so. Treat with respect the person who colors your hair.)
  • The shampoo person at a salon: $1-2
  • Manicurist: 10%-15%
  • Cab (or Car Service) Driver: 15%-20% (Plus $1 for each bag handled.)
  • Hotel Housekeeping: $2-5 per night (Consider leaving a tip each morning as different maids may work on your room over the course of your stay. Leave the tip in an envelope labeled "Housekeeping.")
  • Doorman: $1-2 for calling a cab
  • Anyone who handles your bags: $1-2 per bag
  • Concierge: Anywhere from $2-20 depending on service performed
  • Bartender: $1-2 per drink

Standards vary, but these seem to be good guidelines. (Although I will probably keep giving good tips to drivers. After all, my life is in their hands.) - LG

Adios, Miami

So, the time flew by and we are back to reality, after a long bachelorette weekend in Miami. While we have forced back into real-life, our stomachs have yet to recover from the trip. Miami is gastronomic experience to say the least. Among the things we learned while dining this weekend:
  • Every open-air café on Ocean Drive serves breakfast for $3.99-4.25. Their dinner entrees may be $30 a piece, but breakfast is unbelievably cheap. They all offer the same 4-5 basic choices, but as long as you go with one of those, you can get out of there for much less than a poolside frozen drink (keep reading).
  • Drinks are insanely expensive. A fountain soda will run you $4, a Corona $9, and a frozen cocktail $11-13.
  • They take tapas SERIOUSLY in Miami. On Cinco de Mayo we visited Tapas y Tintos on Espanola Way. Ordering tapas and sangria for 16 girls is not an easy feat. We thought we would need the customary 2-3 plates per person. We were sorely mistaken. Every two people could have easily split 3 plates between the two of them. The tapas were excellent, the open air seating was perfect, and the portions were HUGE.
  • Dancing on your dinner table is encouraged. On Friday night, we had a huge dinner at Taverna Opa – completed with family-style Greek food and pitchers of margaritas and mojitos (this was bad news later on in the evening). Waiters danced on tables, threw paper napkins all over the restaurant, and eventually we danced on our tables ourselves. It was unexpectedly glorious for even the most reserved person on our trip.
  • Every restaurant adds 17% gratuity – regardless if you are a party of 2 or 12. $11 drinks by the pool + 17% gratuity = disastrous for your wallet.
  • Just because the portion sizes are huge DOES NOT mean you need to try to finish them. If you order 5 tapas plates between the 2 of you (ahem, Lauren and I), just let it go, don’t try to finish it. Otherwise, your stomach is still hating you 48 hours later!
It was a blissful weekend over all – and has definitely inspired some potential posts for this week, so stay tuned!

And we're off...

We are unable to post this evening because of packing, stressing, and eating due to stress. Tomorrow we are headed to New York followed by Miami (Lauren) and Miami (Farrell.) We should be back on Monday with some interesting stories (and a more flattering picture for the blog). Have a great weekend everyone!

You've Got Mail...

Because of the circumstances of my life, I ship a lot of cookies to New York. Although my chocolate chip cookies are fantastic (recipe courtesty of the Fannie Farmer Cookbook), I suspect the recipient would appreciate a little bit of variety. Unfortunately, my last attempt at variety included peanut butter cookies. Two days later they announced the Great Peanut Butter Recall of 2007. I generally make the cookies on Sunday evening and ship them on Monday. They arrive on Wednesday. If anyone has a suggestion for something other than cookies that I could make (and ship fairly easily), I would love to hear about it. I have considered brownies, but they are sort of ho-hum and I am looking for something a bit more exciting. -LG